Digital Transformation in International Travel

Jacques du Rand 2021-10-28

South Africa has always been a little behind the rest of the world when it comes to digital transformation in everyday type services. None so more true than for the travel industry and thankfully the pandemic has forced us to change the way we travel.

For some reason we still like to resort to printing out things. Flight, car hire and accommodation confirmation? Print it. Covid Vaccination Certificate? Write it in print on a postcard. (No one will lose that surely! ;) )

As international destinations started opening up their borders and recently started allowing South Africans access again, the way we travel had to shift and transform with the times.

Digital Is Safer

Many practices have needed to change from a printed format to a digital format. I only considered how many things touch other people's hands after Covid-19 hit and we were made acutely aware of this by constantly needing to sanitize our hands.

These are just a few of the things that have modernized in travel:

Flight Check-ins & Tickets

Booking flights online has been an option for many years. For international flights it is even preferred to check-in digitally prior to your flight so that you don't need to spend more time than needed at the check-in counter. Once you've checked in digitally you only need to drop your bags at the counter. You still receive a printed ticket on the SA side - but it does have a QR code.

Most international carriers are able to provide this to you in digital format (with a QR code) so you don't really need that printed ticket.

Negative PCR Tests For Travelling

Something that we never had before for travelling was needing to show a negative PCR test result. One needs to obtain this typically within 72-48 hours before your flight and show this at emigration.

What it shows is that you have tested negative for Covid-19. Knowing this, the flight is probably one of the safer places to be as everyone needs to show a negative test in order to be allowed to fly.

Booking Seats & Wearing Masks

Regardless of having to show a negative PCR test to be allowed on-board the flight, actual seat allocation is still spotted with some empty seats between passengers here and there to allow for social distancing on flights. (Well as much as one can be socially distant on a plane!)

Flight capacity was more limited before October 2021, but as more and more countries start getting more vaccinated and their Covid-19 daily numbers start coming down, capacity is starting to increase once more.

Wearing masks for the duration of the journey is mandatory and passengers need to bring extra masks to change to a fresh mask every 3 hours. The only time you are allowed to remove your mask is while refreshments are being served.

Health Declaration - Now Digital

If you've ever travelled outside of South Africa there has always been this little form to complete prior to entering the destination country. Thankfully this is now digital and you complete this prior to your flight. I'm sure we're saving trees this way too!

Digital Vaccination Passport

Up until October South Africans were considered on the red-list for flights. This was mostly due to international countries not recognising our very analogue-style postcard vaccination certificates. One of the top reasons is that they are too easy to fake.

Once the South African government finally rolled out the digital version - which has a unique identifying QR code, (and which you can download as a pdf) - we were allowed to travel internationally once more.

If you're planning to stay long-term in an overseas location, there are various digital vaccination apps you can download to your mobile device that act as your vaccination passport. These are linked to that particular country's health system. These apps now finally also recognise the South African vaccinations and South Africans travelling abroad can now load their confirmations to these apps.

One such app is the Health Passport Worldwide. It is just a pity that the onboarding is not yet quite all through the app which makes it quite cumbersome, but hopefully they will be fully digital one day soon!

One of the reasons that we're so used to printing things out as opposed to using our mobile devices to store information is quite possibly the uncertainty of whether or not we would have access to our information on mobile. Network coverage has always been a bit spotty across South Africa, and roaming data is expensive relative to international standards. So there used to be a good chance that you could just not access your information while travelling.

Hopefully South Africa's networks continue to strive towards international benchmarks.

If you're staying local and like to explore from the couch, make sure you have solid internet. Want to know if you're getting fibre in your neighbourhood soon, or want to switch providers? Fibre Tiger remains the easiest way to compare and sign-up for fibre in South Africa.