Passengers with unapproved vaccines could find it harder to enter some countries in the short term, but a global acceptance of vaccines will eventually be agreed upon, said Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths.
Health passports will probably become "ubiquitous" and "mandated by individual countries", while passenger volumes are not expected to return to 2019 levels until we have the data to show how much the vaccine will slow the transmission of Covid-19, he said.
Around a quarter of a million passengers are expected to travel through airports owned and operated by Dubai Airports – Dubai International Airport and Dubai World Central, also known as Al Maktoum International Airport – this weekend.
Figures are similar to normal levels, with most travellers choosing to go to the Maldives and Seychelles for the school spring break.
In February, 1.67 million people travelled through the airports, which was significantly lower than the 8 million normally expected. Travel was down 70 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.
Nevertheless, the Dubai Airports chief predicts a buoyant second half of 2021, as passenger confidence rebounds and global vaccination programmes expand.
"As soon as countries get more confident that they've got closer to herd immunity, I think there'll be a flood of demand, and the travel industry will rebound extremely quickly," said Mr Griffiths in an interview with Dubai Eye's Business Breakfast programme.
“There’s been about 4 billion people on lockdown over the world – which is about half the world's population.
"The thing we miss the most is the ability to get mobile and see our loved ones, so when that ability comes back, I think everyone will rush to book,” he said.
Several travel organisations and airline chief executives have spoken recently about the possible introduction of vaccine passports to accelerate the opening of borders. Mr Griffiths said he expected passengers to start to carry a digital health record.
He praised the Travel Pass scheme being introduced by industry body the International Air Transport Association (Iata).
“Vaccine passports are a very good thing.
“What needs to happen is the health authorities around the world need to agree on common standards so that we've got proper interchangeability.
“The Iata system is a token-based system which will allow that interoperability between all of the different health systems. So I think it's a great step in the right direction,” he said.
But even with a vaccine passport, Mr Griffiths predicted passengers could still face problems if they have taken a vaccine the destination country has not recognised.
“Clearly if you're vaccinated with an approved vaccine, that's going to be easier than if you try and enter a country that has a vaccination requirement – and the vaccine that you've taken isn't on the list.
“I think that may be a problem. But I think the world's heading towards a fairly universal acceptance of vaccines, if we could get over the politics of supply between individual countries," Mr Griffiths said.
"Eventually we will end up with a ubiquitous solution, but sadly with anything that requires as a global standard to be agreed, it's never an easy task.”