As someone who spent 49 of 52 weeks on the road in 2019, there isn’t much I haven’t experienced in my travels. But pre-pandemic, when I was faced with the looming May expiration of my US visa, I decided it was time to return home. As a result, I moved from New York to London at the height of COVID-19 with my two dogs in tow.

You see, my dogs aren’t just pets—one is a service animal. Despite the fact that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s (ASD) 20+ years ago, I was requested to reprove my diagnosis to ensure that I really did have the right to bring a service animal with me. Standard processes around pet/animal export/import means that they have to have a number of vet checks and vaccine records validated by veterinarians and local authorities to certify that they are not importing zoonotic diseases that could be harmful to humans into the country like rabies. Multiple checks take place and most of them require in-person checks as well as in-person ‘inking or stamping’ of documents. And so, my final days as a New York resident were spent running around trying to get multiple different paper-based tests and certifications back and forth between medical and municipal facilities and couriers, all while veterinary clinics, mental health doctors and other organizations were operating in limited capacity at best.

Here are my well-traveled dogs and me at Accenture Interactive’s “cantina” during SXSW in Austin.

I can’t help but draw parallels to what the future holds for us when we are all traveling again. The new process might be very similar to what we go through with our pets. I imagine vaccine certificates or negative test results that need to come from a validated and trusted source and the healthcare professionals and local government authorities having to provide the required certification.

To get moving again, we need to reassure safety and confidence in travel

My experience exposed flaws in the system that have been exacerbated in the current environment and solving some of these challenges will be critical to get people moving again. And if the recent Qantas flight to nowhere, which sold out in 10 minutes, is any indication, the appetite is there.

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$5.5BILLION

could be lost in global 2020 Travel & Tourism GDP, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council

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Travel is an integral part of our personal, professional and economic livelihoods. With $5.5 billion in global GDP hanging in the air, we have the know-how to help organizations manage the complex and evolving requirements that are raising uncertainty around: What test(s) do I need? How recent should they be? What if I am going from one country to another or even different regions within a country?

To rebuild confidence, we need to share rapidly changing information from disparate sources in real-timewithout physical contact. Our paper-based credentials such as IDs, health certificates and lab results don't work that way:

  • They’re analog—they can’t dynamically update, share and validate data
  • They’re easy to forge and lose
  • They’re constantly copied and exchanged back and forth, which is not only inefficient, but potentially forces person-to-person contact or risks inaccuracies
  • They’re hard to tell if they are legitimate – a negative test certificate in Japanese might not be easily understandable to an immigration officer in India, so how do they know this is the right credential that can enable entry?
  • They’re not interoperable, making it difficult for new partners to collaborate on the travel experience (e.g., TSA agents aren’t equipped to validate lab results from random medical facilities across the globe.)

The good news? The technology to address these issues is already at the gate.

Here I am speaking at the Blockchain4Good lunch sponsored by Accenture at Consensus.

Contactless proof of health anytime, anywhere

Securely and confidentially sharing information across a whole new ecosystem of travel, medical and government organizations may seem complex, but the solution could be as simple as an app, the baseline of which already exists. A dynamic digital identity in the palm of our hands would allow us to share trusted, up-to-date health credentials whenever and wherever we need to while maintaining control over our data and privacy.

How it works: A 30,000-ft. view

In your app, you are able to receive verified, tamper-proof credentials from any number of trusted parties. Each organization that you choose to share your data with can check against the ledger to validate that the data came from a trusted organization and is still valid. This means that organizations no longer need to do checking of data back and forth. You can share data well in advance with organizations, like the airline or border control, and update—as well as be updated on—any safety protocols required before travel, like a negative COVID-19 test result within 24 hours of travel.

Imagine, the airport is able to know that all passengers coming aboard tested negative, and that their staff would be safe. Passengers and airline staff would also be assured of their health. The risk of infection spreading at the airport or on a plane would be lower.   

Crucially, you retain control over which bits of information each party can view, for what purpose and length of time. No need to show your lab panel to an airline, only the requisite certifications (e.g., “My most recent test for Corona Virus was negative,” or “I’m not experiencing symptoms.”) Once you're checked in, you can revoke access to that information.

How it plays out
  1. The issuer of a credential (say, a hospital issuing an antibody certification) adds it your digital identity ledger, which you maintain in a private "wallet" on your phone.
  2. When a transit authority needs to verify that credential, you enable them to view it in your digital wallet. This can be done ahead of time, long before you leave.
  3. Because your ledger is now the trusted source of information, the transit authority verifies the credential by simply viewing it on your ledger instead of confirming with the hospital.

Imagine how much smoother things could have gone had I had this app in May.

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Evolving to the never normal

The efficiency gains of a solution like this are low-hanging fruit. The power of sharing trusted data in advance of travel, especially given the health and safety aspects, is more important than ever. To help people trust that it is indeed safe to travel again, we could start with before we leave our homes and enable those that are safe to travel to enter the airports and continue seamlessly on their journey.

To get the world moving again, businesses and governments may need to provide a level of comfort that the best possible procedures are in place to help keep their clients, employees, passengers, vendors, and citizens safe. The technology exists to facilitate this exchange of information in a way that preserves privacy and builds an environment of trusted interactions. It’s proven and trusted by governments and travel providers and requires minimal upfront investment. But the greater impact lies in the foundational trust it creates, which will be essential to get the world moving again.

 


Disclaimer: This document is intended for general informational purposes only does not take into account the reader’s specific circumstances, and may not reflect the most current developments. Accenture disclaims, to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, any and all liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information in this presentation and for any acts or omissions made based on such information. Accenture does not provide legal, regulatory, audit, or tax advice. Readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel or other licensed professionals. Accenture, its logo, and New Applied Now are trademarks of Accenture.

Christine Leong

Managing Director, Blockchain MPS Digital Identity Lead

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