Are hospitality passports the answer to a cultural renaissance and a speedy economic recovery?

by Nik Maguire

In 2020, lockdowns, Track and Trace, pub closures, travel bans and mass vaccinations sent even the most hardcore of political extremists running for their copy of George Orwell's 1984 in search of comfort and stories of happier times!

The Orwellian vision of 1984 has in large part become an accepted cultural reality in 2021 but could some of the  'dystopian' measures used to fight Covid-19, actually be laying foundations for a much more productive, safer and free society, post-pandemic?

Hospitality is, without doubt, one of the hardest-hit sections of the economy with 660,000 job losses and almost 10,000 pubs and restaurants closed permanently in the UK alone.  The challenge of balancing the costs of reopening with consumer confidence is an unenviable one that operators and businesses are having to face.

However, forward-thinking councils, hospitality venues and technology providers are looking towards Digital Identity Passports as one solution to help expedite the recovery.

A Digital Identity Passport is held on a smartphone and uses biometric data (fingerprints and facial recognition) along with passwords to securely store your personal identification documents such as driving licence, passport and even health credentials so that only you can access them.

The idea of a citizen having to produce "their papers" to enter a bar, club or restaurant would send shudders down the spine of Orwell himself.  But adding vaccination documents, testing results and government ID to the process, then haven't we just created a police state enforced by sommeliers, mixologists and table hosts?

The answer is no... we already do this. Admittedly it has been some time since I have been asked to produce ID to buy alcohol but for the more youthful reader, this is a reality you have to endure every time you're grabbing a bottle of Casillero del Diablo's Cabernet Sauvignon from Tescos on the way home (remember spontaneous grocery shopping?!)

Producing "government papers" to buy alcohol has been part of our culture for decades.  Every student (pre-lockdown) knew they were not be getting past the bouncer to shot J√§gerbombs in their local if they were wearing white trainers or forgot their photo ID.  When you're collecting pre-purchased tickets for the theatre or cinema you produce your credit card and ID.  When you jump on a low-cost flight to Faro you travel with your passport (and whatever new post Brexit documentation is now required).  Producing ID for "freedoms" is a pre-existing contract in many parts of society. 

Now vaccination or testing documents are becoming part of the identity verification mix.  Saga Cruises, a U.K.-based cruise operator, announced it was requiring all passengers to have received the COVID-19 vaccine before embarking on a trip and many venues, restaurants and independent bars are following suit in order to provide their customers with the confidence to return.

Who is really driving Digital ID Passports?

The evolution from ID Papers to plastic and now to Digital Identity Passports brings with it many benefits but perhaps the most important of all is the individual is in control of their own data.

It is this individual empowerment that could be the true driving force behind greater Digital Identity Passport adoption. 

Consider the real-world challenges we now face in 2021.  Would you prefer enforced self-isolation in a hotel for two weeks on arrival in a new country or to show your immutable vaccination and test credentials at border control with a flash of your phone and continue about your business?

Would you prefer to dine in a restaurant where you know everybody has proof of vaccination or relax in the confidence of herd immunity?  When you are dancing at a gig do you want the person sweating next to you to have been tested or would you rather assume you are fine?  If you're taking an elderly relative to a football match would you prefer the fans singing behind you be tested as negative or wouldn't you care if their breath was potentially packed with a huge payload of Coronavirus?

Like it or not, these are the thoughts that ordinary citizens and consumers are naturally faced with, in this 'new reality'.

It's not central government enforcement of legislation pushing the adoption of Digital Identity Passports in some conspiratorial aim of crushing the liberties of its population but the desire of individuals to regain their basic social freedoms by taking control of their digital identity and willingly sharing that with hospitality, travel and retail businesses.

Folio has seen a huge increase in the number of consumers downloading its Digital Identity Wallet from the App stores.  This has not been part of a government marketing drive but it is being driven by the desire of citizens to take greater control of their own digital identity.

The enhanced biometric security, the convenience of everything in one place and most of all the choice to have immediate access to relevant credentials when required is driving downloads and fueling Folios impressive user ratings.

There seems little appetite for central governments to enforce health passports but human nature and commercial desire to build consumer confidence seems to be driving the adoption of Digital Identity Passports.  Technology it seems has not become a power for subjugation in the hands of a fictional Big Brother as predicted by Orwell but an individual's passport to freedom.

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