Op Ed: Lauren Aste On Travel’s Return Hinging On A Commitment To Global Public Health

CWT chief legal officer Lauren Aste discusses how humans have an innate impulse to help each other. She argues that the travel industry, governments and NGOs likewise must collaborate on opening borders and restarting travel, and assisting all countries in combating Covid — and the next threat to global public health.


In the book “Humankind: A Hopeful History,” author Rutger Bregman argues a radical point: Most people, deep down, are pretty decent.

Bregman researches history’s most momentous disasters and compares the reality of how events unfolded versus how they were portrayed in the media. In the chaos of September 11, 2001, for example, thousands of people calmly descended the World Trade Center’s stairs, even though they knew their lives were in danger. They stepped aside for firefighters and the injured. During Hurricane Katrina, while 25,000 people packed inside the New Orleans Superdome, supporting one another through one of the worst natural disasters in recent history, newspapers were filled with negative accounts of gangs and shootings. It wasn’t until months later that many of these accounts were revealed to be false.

The point is that most humans are hardwired to look out for others. Professionals in the travel industry are especially aware of the possibilities of connection, collaboration and innovation. Travel is built on those pillars.

Lauren Aste, CWT

Lauren Aste, CWT EVP and chief legal officer

As we emerge from a pandemic during which tales of personal fortitude and community have been all around us, we have to ask ourselves if we’re taking this opportunity to build back better. The short-term solution may be to close borders, but the lasting solution lies in looking beyond them. 

Anyone who travels for business is in the minority of the world’s population, and nearly half of vaccine doses administered so far have gone to high-income countries (21.1 percent of the world’s population), according to Global Change Data Lab.

According to the Eco Health Alliance, 75 percent of newly emerging diseases are zoonotic (transmitted between animals and humans) and, like SARS and Covid-19, spread fast. That has some worried. Dr. Michael Ryan, head of the emergencies program at the World Health Organization in December said Covid-19, while “severe,” was “not necessarily the big one.”

It’s incumbent on governments to work together on a plan for the future. As an industry, we can contribute to global public health and be better prepared to react to any future pandemic. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s key to re-opening travel for the long-term. 

International Protocols And Interoperability

At least 20 digital health pass initiatives are currently underway. The goal is safely and efficiently validating health information from travelers, giving them the green light to board flights and arrive at their destinations without quarantining. These platforms have been designed by stakeholders in the travel ecosystem — from airlines to industry organizations to NGOs — all with the objective of getting travelers back on the road in a safe and efficient way.

While the innovation supporting the design of these platforms is impressive, it is essential that we have international protocols that allow these different technology platforms to speak to each other in a common way. This will make it easy for travelers to use, without duplicating efforts for different legs of a single journey. The need for international standards and interoperability is particularly important given the existing patchwork of national privacy legislation with which these platforms will need to comply.

Currently, solutions are national in nature and involve competing commercial interests. Stakeholders in travel must work together and with governments to ensure that travelers move around safely.  

Change One Person, Change The World

Approved vaccines are unfortunately not enough to achieve global control over Covid-19. These vaccines also need to be produced at scale, priced affordably and allocated globally. Support for vaccination efforts by individuals in their communities, online and while traveling can make a big difference. So can support for organizations like Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and many other non-governmental organizations racing to tackle vaccine inequality and end the pandemic.

The Case For Digital Acceleration

While the experience of the last year slowed us down physically, paradoxically, it created what can only be described as a time-lapse video for digital transformation, accelerating how we interact via cashless transactions, door-to-door deliveries and virtual meetings, among many other examples. Digital transformation plays a key role in global public health as our industry develops tools to keep travelers and, by extension, local communities safe.

It’s essential that companies remain committed to digital solutions designed with safety and security in mind. While responsible business has largely been framed within the travel industry as reducing carbon footprints and supporting green initiatives, each of us doing our part to take responsibility for improving global public health is just as critical in an increasingly interconnected world.

The travel industry must work with governments and NGOs to ensure that those crossing borders do so without endangering others, and all nations have the resources they urgently require. It’s only when a sufficient number of people in all regions can access vaccines and testing that we’ll see a real return to travel and the end of the pandemic.

Bregman is right when he says, “There is a persistent myth that by their very nature humans are selfish, aggressive and quick to panic … actually the opposite is true. It’s when crisis hits – when the bombs fall or the floodwaters rise – that we humans become our best selves.”


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Author: Lauren Aste

Lauren Aste is chief legal officer and a member of the executive leadership team at CWT. She joined CWT in 2007 and has more than 20 years’ experience in global travel and law, with various international leadership roles at Dechert LLP and Chadbourne & Parke LLP. Lauren also serves on the board of the World Childhood Foundation USA. She received her Juris Doctor from New York University School of Law, holds an M.A. from New York University Graduate School of Arts and Science, and a B.A. from Wellesley College. She is admitted as a Solicitor to the Supreme Court of England and Wales, and is a member of the New York and Connecticut State Bars. Connect with Lauren on LinkedIn.
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