As 2021 commences, the latest results from the Henley Passport Index, the original ranking of all the world's passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, provide fascinating insights into the future of travel freedom in a world that has been transformed by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Without taking temporary restrictions into account, Japan continues to hold the number one position on the index, with passport holders able to access 191 destinations around the world visa-free.
This marks the third consecutive year that Japan has held the top spot, either alone or jointly with Singapore.
Asia Pacific (APAC) region countries' dominance of the index , which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) , now seems firmly established.
Singapore sits in 2nd position, with access to 190 destinations, and South Korea holds onto 3rd place alongside Germany, with both having a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 189.
Slightly further down but still in the top 10, New Zealand is in 7th position, with visa-free access to 185 destinations, while Australia is in 8th position, with access to 184 destinations.
For Nigerian passport, the country sits 97th position, with visa-free access to 46 destinations. Nigeria is 42 in Africa behind South Africa, which top Africa list, but 54th position in the world list with visa-free access to 101 destinations.
Other African countries ahead of Nigeria on the list are Namibia 68; Lesotho 69; Malawi 72; Kenya 73 and Tanzania 74 among others.
The ascendance of APAC countries in the Henley Passport Index rankings is a relatively new phenomenon. Over the index's 16-year history, the top spots were traditionally held by EU countries, the UK, or the US, and experts suggest that the APAC region's position of strength will continue as it includes some of the first countries to begin the process of recovering from the pandemic.
With the US and the UK still facing significant challenges related to the virus, and the passport strength of both countries continuing to steadily erode, the balance of power is shifting.
Over the past seven years, the US passport has fallen from the number one spot to 7th place, a position it currently shares with the UK.
Due to pandemic-related travel constraints, travelers from both the UK and the US currently face major restrictions from over 105 countries, with US passport holders able to travel to fewer than 75 destinations, while UK passport holders currently have access to fewer than 70.
Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of leading residence and citizenship advisory firm Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says that the latest ranking provides an opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary upheaval that characterized 2020.
"Just a year ago all indications were that the rates of global mobility would continue to rise, that travel freedom would increase, and that holders of powerful passports would enjoy more access than ever before.
"The global lockdown negated these glowing projections, and as restrictions begin to lift, the results from the latest index are a reminder of what passport power really means in a world upended by the pandemic."
With the first Covid-19 vaccine approved just over a month ago, airline industry experts believe that mandatory vaccination before air travel may soon be a necessity.
A technological innovation scheduled to launch in Q1 2021 that will contribute to restoring global mobility is IATA's Travel Pass initiative -- a mobile application that enables travellers to store and manage their verified certifications for Covid-19 tests or vaccines.
Vanguard News Nigeria