Earlier this month, a Gallup poll found that 65% of Americans said they would be willing to take an FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccine immediately if it were available at no cost. That leaves more than a third of the population unwilling, for the time being, to be vaccinated.
Travelers, as a subset of the population, seem a bit more willing to get the jab. Industry advocacy group Travel Again's most recent monthly Traveler Confidence Index found that one in four business travelers and one in five leisure travelers do not plan to get the vaccine when they are eligible.
This complicates efforts to clarify the impact of vaccines on an already knotty system of travel quarantines and testing requirements.
What does seem clear is that the travel experience will change for those who do and don't get vaccinated. Leora Lanz, associate professor of the practice and chair of the master of management in hospitality program at the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration, said suppliers will need to think now about how they will handle passengers who aren't vaccinated.
For example, cruise lines, she said, may have to expand onboard medical facilities to accommodate daily testing, and certain destinations may require proof of vaccination for entry.
"We're going to have to think about what's allowed in the future," she said, including "where people can travel to if they haven't been vaccinated."
Which begs the question: Will suppliers require proof of vaccination from travelers?
Legally, they could, said industry lawyer and Travel Weekly columnist Mark Pestronk.
"A business in the U.S. can legally decide who to do business with or not to do business with, as long as the decision does not violate civil rights laws," Pestronk said.
David Sherwyn, professor of hospitality and human resources and the director of the Cornell Center for Innovative Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations, said he believes that some suppliers will opt to require vaccines.
Most likely among them are cruise lines, he said, followed by all-inclusive resorts. Conferences may also require attendees be vaccinated. It is less likely that urban hotels that are typically geared toward business travelers will require vaccinations, but Sherwyn said he could see a future in which a major brand designates a soft brand as vaccine-required.
If cruise lines do require vaccines, they would likely lose some customers, Sherwyn said. "But," he added, "you'd lose more people who don't want to be in close quarters with people who haven't been vaccinated," and they would get a lift from increased consumer confidence.
But Lynn Minnaert, academic chair and clinical associate professor at New York University's Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, considers it "fairly unlikely" that most suppliers would require vaccinations.
If it did become a requirement, Minnaert said, it would further complicate travel.
"It's constantly changing," she said of regulations. That is especially true in the U.S., she said, where regulations differ from state to state.
Lanz agreed that regulations "are complex and can be confusing." However, she added, "they will, over time, become easier to navigate. And with that in mind, please let's all retain the desire to travel, to learn from one another and help local communities and employees, as well."