With a few notable exceptions, vaccine drives all over the world have been slow and unequal, hampered by reluctance of citizens, distrust of available options and shortages, prompting many to board planes and cross borders to get the shot faster than they would in the country where they live.
Combining a holiday with a medical procedure is not uncommon but Covid-19 pandemic has given birth to a new branch of tourism, wherein the travellers go abroad to receive the much needed Covid-19 jab.
Until recently, Serbia had been offering vaccines to anyone irrespective of whether they were citizens or not, which prompted a huge influx of people crossing into the country to get vaccinated. Franka Vican, spokesperson of Border Police of Bosnia and Herzegovina said in an interview that Serbia noted an influx of 50,477 vaccine tourists between March 19- March 31, 2021.
While this practice was being viewed as unethical and testament of economic inequality in the pandemic, many countries are trying to bring it to the mainstream in the bid to boost their economies.
“The government has to regulate it, the government of a country is allowing outsiders, that is why private players are offering these services, if these people have the resources and time to travel to other countries to get vaccinated and the government of those countries are welcoming them then I don’t see it as an issue,” Ravi Gosain, vice president of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) tells India Outbound.
Maldives, an island nation heavily dependent on its tourism sector, is planning to offer tourists the Covid-19 vaccine. Tourism minister Abdulla Mausoom, in an interview announced of a ‘3V’ plan that stands for ‘Visit’, ‘Vaccinate’, ‘Vacation’, as an incentive to visit the country.
“At the moment the travel world is looking to open somehow after being in a state of peril for so long, I think this will be a positive sign for the industry, travellers and tourism agencies, countries like Maldives are looking to make vaccine tourism a thing which I think will work in their favour,” says Gosain.
Following suit, Russia and Alaska in the United States are said to be formulating policies preparing to get in. The Russian government on April 1, 2021 tweeted “Sputnik V vaccination in Russia! Who’s onboard?”, along with a photograph of people next to a plane with Sputnik written on it.
Dubai, where vaccinations opened up in March 2021 to anyone aged 40 or over who had a Dubai residency visa, for months, has been running a campaign to encourage foreign nationals to work remotely from Dubai for a year in order to receive the vaccine.
Tour and travel operators around the world have also been quick to formulate strategies to capitalise the trend.
As the news of vaccines being approved for public distribution in countries like USA and UK started circulating, tour operators in India began formulating fancy holiday packages combined with the vaccine shot even though the countries have not yet indicated that would offer vaccine to foreign travellers.
Indian travel agencies such as Zenith Holidays and Gem Tours & Travels ran social media campaigns and advertisements that they were formulating such tour packages, which could include the vaccine cost.
Gem Tours & Travels is formulating a four night tour package from Mumbai to New York priced at approximately INR 175,000 per head that includes flight tickets, accommodation, a small cultural tour and assistance to a health centre for a vaccine shot. While Zenith Holidays plans to announce a 22-day tour package to the UK priced at INR 600,000 per person on single occupancy and INR 450,000 per person on double occupancy which will include assistance to the healthcare centre where an individual may avail of the vaccine shot.
Knightsbridge Circle, an exclusive travel and lifestyle service, has reportedly secured a partnership with the UAE government to allow private access to China’s Sinopharm vaccine for its members at a cost of USD 56,000.
FIT Reisen, a German tour operator in Hamburg has also said that it is planning luxury health vacations that come with the Coronavirus vaccine. A starting package will sell for EUR 2000- EUR 3000, excluding the medical cost and cost for the vaccine. Approximately 5,000 pre-bookings holding spots for around 20,000 individuals have already come in according to a ticker on the company’s website.