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IATA now predicts passenger demand to surpass 2019 levels in 2023

written by Hannah Dowling | May 27, 2021
Willie Walsh, director general, IATA

The International Air Transport Association has released a new report that appears to see it revise its current forecast for travel demand recovery to 2023, down from its previous forecast of 2024, as global border restrictions begin to ease.

In a report released in conjunction with Tourism Economics, IATA is now projecting that international passenger numbers will hit 52 per cent of pre-pandemic levels throughout 2021, with this figure increasing to 88 per cent by 2022.

Most notably, the industry body is now predicting that international air travel demand will in fact surpass 2019 levels by the end of 2023, ultimately reaching 105 per cent of pre-COVID capacity.

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Previously, the IATA had forecast that the industry would not see a return to 2019 traffic demand until at least 2024.

The renewed optimism in industry recovery comes in light of the nearly 1.75 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccines administered around the world, with much of the Middle East, along with the UK, US and Canada boasting more than 50 per cent of their population at least partially vaccinated.

The report pointed to the fact that a majority of developed countries should see at least 50 per cent of their population fully vaccinated by Q3 2021.

It also highlighted trends suggesting that any easing of border restrictions is immediately met with a strong uptick in forward bookings, most evident in the UK, which saw a 100 percentage point increase in bookings between the UK and Portugal when Britain announced its ‘green list’ for quarantine-free travel in early May.

The report also suggested that over a year of prolonged lockdown periods has meant that many consumers have been able to bolster their savings, with some countries seeing consumer savings now in excess of 10 per cent of GDP.

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Together, these facts suggest that airline bosses had it right when they predicted the post-COVID travel would be driven by a ‘pent up’ demand from customers desperate to get out and see the world once more.

Longer-term, IATA is expecting that by 2030, passenger number will grow to exceed 5.6 billion annually – a figure about 7 per cent lower than forecast for 2030 in 2019.

“I am always optimistic about aviation,” said IATA director general Willie Walsh.

“We are in the deepest and gravest crisis in our history. But the rapidly growing vaccinated population and advancements in testing will return the freedom to fly in the months ahead. And when that happens, people are going to want to travel.

“The immediate challenge is to reopen borders, eliminate quarantine measures and digitally manage vaccination/testing certificates.

“At the same time, we must assure the world that aviation’s long-term growth prospects are supported with an unwavering commitment to sustainability. Both challenges require governments and industry to work in partnership.”

However, Walsh argued that the aviation industry is ready to ramp-up operations to cater to pent up air travel demand, however is waiting on government’s around the globe to give them the green light.

“This should be a clarion call to governments to get ready. The travel and tourism sector is a major contributor to GDP. People’s livelihoods are at stake. To avoid greater long-term economic and social damage, restart must not be delayed,” Walsh said.

“Governments can facilitate a safe restart with policies that enable restriction-free travel for vaccinated people, and testing alternatives for those unable to be vaccinated.

“Governments must also be ready with processes to digitally manage the vaccine or test certificates — ensuring that a safe restart is also efficient.”

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