After analyzing how COVID-19 affected passenger and air freight demand in 2021, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has encouraged governments to relax travel restrictions for both vaccinated and unvaccinated tourists.
“As COVID-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to endemic stage, it is past time for governments to evolve their responses away from travel restrictions that repeatedly have been shown to be ineffective in preventing the spread of the disease, but which inflict enormous harm on lives and economies,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh commented.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported on January 25, 2022 that air passenger demand, measured in revenue passenger kilometres, declined 58.4 percent in 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
International demand was more than 75% lower than in 2019, whereas local consumption was just 28% lower than pre-pandemic levels.
The statistics are an improvement over 2020, when passenger demand dropped over 66% from the previous year.
The development of the Omicron version of COVID-19, however, delayed recovery until the end of 2021. According to IATA, worldwide demand has been recovering at a rate of roughly 4% month over month until 2021, but demand only improved by about 2% in December compared to November.
“Overall travel demand strengthened in 2021. That trend continued into December despite travel restrictions in the face of Omicron. That says a lot about the strength of passenger confidence and the desire to travel,” Walsh said.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) stated that it was time to lift travel bans, eliminate quarantine and testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers, and eliminate quarantines for non-vaccinated travelers.
Walsh said that the spread of Omicron showed that travel restrictions haven’t worked to control the virus. “The measures have not worked. Today Omicron is present in all parts of the world. That’s why travel, with very few exceptions, does not increase the risk to general populations. The billions spent testing travelers would be far more effective if allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening health care systems.”
He praised France, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland for relaxing limitations, and urged Asian countries to follow suit.
Travel restrictions have been particularly severe in Asia, with some marketplaces effectively blocked to visitors. Cathay Pacific’s operations in Hong Kong are being hampered by severe regulations.
When compared to 2019, Asia-Pacific airlines’ international passenger demand fell by 93% in 2021. Meanwhile, foreign traffic fell 66 percent to 72 percent for airlines in Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Latin America.
Domestic markets, on the other hand, have shown to be more resilient, with nations with large domestic travel markets seeing a faster rebound. Domestic demand in the United States and China was down only 24% from pre-pandemic levels.