Would vaccination passports be a useful tool for the brand experience industry?

Some experts welcome the new measures but others warn of the potential loss of freedoms.

Events: Ian Brown pulled out of gig due to his vaccine views (Getty Images)
Events: Ian Brown pulled out of gig due to his vaccine views (Getty Images)

Festival tickets are currently selling like hotcakes, but as we approach 21 June (when we could see an end to social distancing), it is still unknown whether events of all shapes and sizes will need to have enhanced measures in places.

Last week Ian Brown, former frontman of the Stone Roses, pulled out of a planned performance at the Neighbourhood Weekender in Warrington in September due to his views on the vaccine.

Taking to Twitter, he wrote: "My Saturday night headline show at NHBD Weekender Festival will now not happen! I refuse to accept vaccination proof as condition of entry. Refunds are available!"

No formal guidelines regarding proof of vaccination have been issued to festival and event organisers, but it is being considered. The government outlined in its roadmap that it is exploring "Covid-status certification" and "enhanced testing".

This means there is currently some uncertainty about what the entry conditions might look like. There could be measures mandated by the government or enhanced safety measures that vary from event to event.

So, would "vaccination passports" be a useful tool for the brand experience industry?

Andrew Casher

Founder and chief executive, Hyperactive

Vaccination passports have to happen. They are our best bet to fast-track a return to live brand experiences. Since the Prime Minister's roadmap announcement, we can finally see a glimmer of hope, thanks to progress in two areas: a long, brutal but effective lockdown and a fast and efficient vaccination roll out. Finally, there is belief that we can put this pandemic behind us. But without further measures there remains a risk of another surge derailing the timetable back to mass gatherings. The authorities need to be decisive and fast in investing in a reliable solution (and move on from the farcical "test and trace"). Vaccination passports are the only way to offer protection to event organisers and attendees while building confidence for marketers to reasonably consider investment in live brand experiences. We can run events without them, and reduce risk with lateral flow tests, but they have been proved to be inaccurate and flawed, so let's get this part right, remove any uncertainty and get back to it.

Richie Gage

Head of production, Amplify

Yes, because until otherwise advised, we need to navigate a way to allow events to resume. No event organisers will ever take risks with the health of staff or guests, so if vaccine passports mean events can make a faster comeback, then it's got to be worth exploring.

The downside, however, is that those who don't want or aren't able to receive the vaccine would be ineligible for entry. But the alternative would be an over-reliance on Covid-testing availability and accuracy, which could run a greater risk of not being effective enough.

At this stage, with unknowns remaining as to whether vaccines are completely able to prevent a second contraction in the events market, the proposed UK pilot events in April and beyond will need to consider passports before we can all rest easy. All measures should be considered.

Luci Beaufort-Dysart

Director, Hyphen

Yes. In my opinion, there's no better feeling than bumping into someone serendipitously at a networking event, or quite literally, when dancing wildly at a festival – these elements are as much part of the experience as the event itself. So, yes, I do believe that vaccination passports would be useful for the industry, as surely anything that kick-starts the industry again is a good thing. After nearly a year of crossing over the road to avoid people, not hugging friends and family and staying two metres apart wherever possible, some people may have a genuine concern about "meeting" again and being with others in groups – small or large. So, knowing you are going to a "safe" event, where everyone attending has been vaccinated, could certainly help to restore confidence among brands and audiences alike. With certain countries reportedly also requiring them for travel, in terms of business events this could also then potentially become the norm and standard practice for the foreseeable future. It may also encourage those who are unsure about whether to have the vaccine in the first place to take the leap.

Chris Dawson

Founder, Ted Experience and Ted Staffing

It's difficult to answer the question without considering the effect on humanity as a whole. On a unidimensional level, vaccination passports could allow a fast and binary route to re-open our industry – but what are we letting in the side door? This would set a potentially dangerous precedent for loss of freedoms and privacy, together with an emboldened authoritative genie in the government, that could be impossible to get back in the bottle.

If we consider that a critical mass of those at significant risk from Covid-19 will all soon have been vaccinated, and that survival rates for people under 69 is circa 99.5%, then it's hard to make a logical argument for such intrusive legislation. My personal view is that we should resist electronic vaccination passports for humans as a permission route for them to travel or enter events and experiences, because such a platform, once established, would likely be abused. Specific to outdoor festivals, we should also consider that the virus is very poorly optimised for outside transmission, as evidenced by the lack of cases born from demonstrations last summer. Therefore, vaccination passports for festival events seems to be a sledgehammer to a nut. What may be sensible, but practically challenging, is testing prior to entry to help stop Covid-positive people entering the festival fields.

Amelia Shepherd

Managing director, Tro

In all honesty, it's just too early to say, so over the next few months we'll be closely following the data, government guidance and pilot studies that are under way in other countries.

We are committed to ensure that the events we create are Covid-safe and are in favour of measures such as proof of a negative test beforehand. But, in saying that, we don't think vaccine passports are a good idea, as we have concerns these will be discriminatory and have the potential to be divisive.

Dax Callner

Director of strategy, Smyle

Yes, vaccine passports will be useful tools for the brand experience industry.

But the details matter... and vaccination passports alone won't be enough to ensure that brand experience participants are (and feel) safe.

With the concept of passports comes important questions: how and who will be able to ensure their validity? And how do we address audiences that may not have access to passports (such as residents of other countries)?

Lastly, there's the reality that as effective as vaccines are, they can't guarantee protection against virus transmission.

This is why passports need to be part of a holistic approach, along with testing strategies, contact tracing, on-site social distancing, ventilation, hygiene factors and more. It's unlikely this virus is going to be 100% stamped out for a while, but we believe it will soon be possible to have great events that are (and feel) safe for people to attend.