How ADB is spurring innovation to lift tourism out of the COVID-19 collapse

Article | 9 March 2021

Last year was one of the worst in living memory for the travel industry, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease forcing strict lockdowns and tight restrictions on cross-border movement, both internationally and locally. This was, and is, having an immense impact on Asia and the Pacific, where some countries rely on tourism for as much as half their GDP. The pandemic stands to cost the Asia and the Pacific some $70 million jobs and $1.1 trillion in GDP—more than any other region in the world.

For travel and tourism in Asia and the Pacific to bounce back—and not forfeit the immense economic gains of recent decades—the travel industry needs to adapt to this new normal and put in place structures for a post-COVID-19 future. And that calls for innovation.

Together with the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), the Asian Development Bank launched the #DigitalAgainstCOVID-19 hackathon, a series of virtual challenges to crowdsource digital solutions and ideas to not only help countries in Asia and the Pacific deal with the medium- and long-term effects of the pandemic but also help create a new way of doing things. One of the four themes covered by the ADB-AIM’s challenge was health and well-being. Under this theme, the Restoring Public Confidence on Safe Travels online challenge was launched.

“The challenge aimed to develop innovative digital solutions that support new travel policies emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as screening procedures and health checks, physical distancing protocols, new travel requirements, standardized facility sanitation, and passengers’ hygiene regimens to reduce spread of infection and restore confidence in travel,” ADB Chief of Health Sector Group Dr. Patrick Osewe said.

Participants were asked: How can technology help travelers to regain their trust in every stage of the travel experience—from booking flights, to transiting through airports before departure, to the flight itself, to transiting through airports on arrival , to ground transportation, and finally to arriving and staying at destinations such as hotels, resorts, or holiday apartments—all while ensuring the highest health and safety precautions?

“Health passports” may be key for minimizing COVID-19 transmission risks

From the four team finalists, MyHealthDiary from Indonesia emerged as the winner of the challenge.

MyHealthDiary team’s winning concept centered on an app that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to support various processes relating to COVID-19 transmission prevention, virus detection, and patient care. The app aims to provide real-time COVID-19 information, online booking of a COVID-19 PCR test, and also an e-shop feature which allows users to safely shop online their COVID-19 medical needs.

The team, partly composed of doctors who provided insights into the development of the app, also proposed a MyHealth Diary app-based COVID-19 patient monitoring feature and the introduction of a National Health Passport. The patient monitoring feature will monitor a COVID-19 positive app user’s health conditions by collecting daily data on the patient’s vital signs. It will also provide contact tracing as well as health alerts and reminders to a patient.

The MyHealthDiary app provides real-time COVID-19 information, online booking of a COVID-19 PCR test, and an e-store for medical supplies.

A National Health Passport will support safe travel through a color-coded barcode which identifies the health status of app users. Using the universal color scheme for traffic lights, green is reserved for users with no or minimum risk; yellow for medium-risk users; and red for users with COVID-19.

The MyHealthDiary team sees a safer way of traveling, particularly if their app will be used not only in Indonesia, but in the wider Asia and Pacific region. The app can be a digital health certificate which will significantly minimize or prevent COVID-19 transmission for travelers. It is also a health information repository which can assist stakeholders and policymakers to implement data-driven regulations for the travel industry.

MyHealthDiary’s color-coded barcode in its National Health Passport feature.

Modern solutions can support the recovery of travel and tourism

MyHealthDiary’s safe travel feature will be piloted in Indonesia by mid-April. According to the MyHealthDiary team, ADB’s $10,000 funding has enabled them to procure the first batch of wearable technology and strengthened their human resources for the implementation of the pilot project.

The other three finalists were MySeREG Team from Indonesia, which proposed a keyless check-in system for hotels; the BeFC Team from France, which introduced its bioenzymatic fuel-cell system, a sustainable alternative to coin or button cells that power most wearable sensors; and the MedAccess Team from Hong Kong, China, Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, who proposed a monitoring system for travelers to observe cost-effective, hygienic safety procedures.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the travel and tourism industry to a virtual standstill and that’s taking a toll on national economies and people’s livelihoods,” said Mr. Osewe. “So the travel and tourism industry needs smart, modern solutions that can be widely and easily implemented. We hope the kind of thinking and ideas we saw with the ADB-AIM hackathon will help the travel and tourism sector to adapt and recover. Around the world, and particularly here in Asia and the Pacific, that will play an important role in how quickly we can rebound from the shock and impact of COVID-19.

Reimagining the travel and tourism industry is an ongoing challenge and ADB and its partners are still seeking innovative solutions to shape this new world. New online challenges are regularly launched and innovative minds are invited to join these challenges.