How Will Small Businesses Adapt to Vaccine Passports?

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Small businesses have been the proving grounds — and the battlegrounds — for COVID countermeasures like shutdowns and mask mandates from the very beginning. Now, the hot-button subject of the moment is vaccine passports. 

Unlike the paper proof-of-vaccination cards that you received when you got your shot, vaccine passports are digital records that are more secure, more reliable, and more universally recognized.

So what do America’s entrepreneurs need to know and what do they have to do in order to adapt and survive? GOBankingRates asked the experts and business owners themselves about what to expect in this new stage of the pandemic.

Same as Always, Nothing is Consistent — Except Familiar Political Divisions

Like the mask mandates and shutdowns that came before, your experience with vaccine passports will be determined by where you live. In March, Vox reported that President Biden declared there would be no central passport database and that he was leaving the issue up to the states and private businesses. The president later signed an executive order mandating employee vaccination for businesses with more than 100 workers.

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Some states — like Democrat-led New Jersey, New York, and California — have created vaccine passport programs. Others have gone the other way and banned proof of vaccination requirements. Most controversially, Republican-led Florida, Montana, and Texas applied their statewide bans to all entities — including private businesses.

This hodgepodge of inconsistency puts business owners with operations in multiple states in a tough spot.

“For us, it’s a precarious situation,” said Charlie McKenna, founder and chef of Lillie’s Q, which has restaurants in Chicago and Florida. “Florida is not allowing vaccine passport requirements and is already cracking down on businesses for having them. Chicago is still in limbo and may eventually require proof of vaccination to eat in restaurants. We really just have to follow the regulations and hope our customers understand that we’re doing everything we can to provide a safe environment that also lets them enjoy themselves. It’s not an easy situation because things can change at the drop of a hat. It just makes it really hard to plan ahead.”

Either Way, Business Owners Can’t Possibly Please Everyone

Chaz Wyland, founder of SnowmobileHow, believes that businesses can use vaccine passport requirements to their advantage by giving leery customers a sense of security.

“On the flip side, requiring a vaccine passport can also turn potential customers away who don’t have the vaccine,” said Wyland. “Really, it’s a difficult time for business owners to adapt and accommodate all of the changing rules and regulations.”  

Much of that difficulty can be traced to the highly charged and highly emotional political polarization that has defined the pandemic from the outset.

“Vaccines have already become so political that small businesses will have to make the choice of losing money or not enforcing vaccine passports, especially in conservative and rural areas,” said Matthew Mundt, CEO of Hug Sleep. “It’s unfortunate that this is the case, as small businesses should be able to feel safe and have pleasant interactions with their customers when providing their services.”

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Most businesses will almost certainly alienate some percentage of their customer base, whichever side they choose — presuming that they live in a state where businesses actually have a choice.

“When it comes to adapting and surviving in difficult times such as these, it’s imperative for business owners to understand that you are not going to please everyone,” said Angelique Rewers, CEO and founder of BoldHaus.

Enforcing Mandates is Always Difficult — and Can Be Dangerous

The virus is one danger, but another is the harassment, intimidation, and in some cases, violent assaults that so many employees have faced in trying to enforce mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements.

“Management will have to consider how to enforce them, perhaps by hiring more security in some cases,” said Brittany Kaiser, chair of the board of Gryphon Digital Mining. “There is always a threat that some customers will not want to comply or grow angry as a result of being asked to show a vaccine passport.” 

Business owners will have to adjust and adapt — but they’ll also have to stick to their guns.

“As policies continue to evolve and change, the best strategy business owners can implement is to continue with the safety protocols recommended by health and safety experts, and communicate these to employees and to customers via social channels and posted information,” said Rewers. “Your job as the owner is to focus on serving your customers and keeping customers and employees safe. Stand behind your decisions and your employees 100% right now, and know it’s OK to say goodbye to clients who are abusive in any way. For employees, this is psychological safety as much as it is physical safety.”

Traveling For Business? Know What the Rules Are When You Land

For entrepreneurs who travel, it’s their responsibility to know the legal regulations and political climate of the state or region they’re visiting. 

“As a small business owner who travels from time to time, adapting to the vaccine passports is just the new normal,” said Lisamarie Monaco, a national independent life insurance agent with PinnacleQuote Life Insurance Specialists. “In order for us to grow as a business, we have to decide that these are indeed the times we are living in. For the business owner who travels, in order to adapt to the vaccine passports, you should make all necessary arrangements ahead of your travel time. Call hotels, businesses, and even restaurants and ask what their requirements are.” 

Since the rules and cultural norms change from place to place, the best bet is to adopt a when-in-Rome attitude when you leave your comfort zone.

“Go with the flow,” Monaco said. “If there are states, countries, and establishments that have guidelines in place, whether you agree or not, just go with the flow and accept what is.” 

Your Customers Are as Confused as You Are — Communication is Key

Businesses serve themselves, their employees and their customers by being open, honest, and available.  

“The best way small businesses can combat that confusion is to robustly and frequently communicate with their customers, keeping them informed,” said Yuvi Alpert, founder, creative director, and CEO of Noémie, a direct-to-consumer fine jewelry brand. “Businesses that make themselves more available to answer questions and address concerns will be less impacted by these vaccine passport mandates. As time goes by, the public will become more comfortable with these requirements and businesses will most likely see an increase in customers. People always strive for equilibrium, meaning that their desire to get back to ‘normal’ is greater than their hesitancy to overcome any potential roadblocks.”

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Last updated: Oct. 14, 2021

About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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