Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary is concerned the next COVID-19 wave over Europe will severely impact bookings in the holiday season, after reporting passenger volumes were returning to 100 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers.
It comes as Austria was plunged into a major lockdown on Monday, the fourth since the pandemic began, to curb the spread of a surge in cases.
“I think we’re in for a fraught period between now and Christmas where it looks like Europe is going to get very nervous again at the worst time of the year when people are making their Christmas travel plans,” he said at a webinar broadcast by Eurocontrol on Tuesday.
“I think it’s inevitable we will undermine confidence between now and Christmas, and that will disrupt Christmas and New Year when they would normally start booking their summer holidays.”
Austria’s spike in cases began in mid-October, and the latest data shows infections have climbed up to over 15,000 a day.
The German health minister, Jens Spahn, said on Monday at a press conference that by the end of this winter, “just about everyone in Germany will probably be either vaccinated, recovered or dead”.
“Immunity will be reached. The question is whether it’s via vaccination or infection, and we explicitly recommend the path via vaccination.”
It comes only a week after Austria became the first nation in Europe to impose a vaccination mandate on its citizens from February 2022.
Those who do not comply could face up to US$4,000 fines, which sparked a protest seeing over 50,000 people over the weekend in Vienna fight against the mandate.
Austria has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe, with the latest data showing 65.7 per cent of the population is double jabbed.
“Up until last weekend, things were going great,” said O’Leary. “Volumes were back running at about 100 per cent of our pre-COVID price volumes.”
“It has been disrupted by the Austrian lockdown and there is a renewed concern across Europe about a fourth or fifth wave of COVID.”
In 2019, Ireland welcomed 81,000 visitors from Austria, according to Tourism Ireland. Germans are considered the nation’s third largest tourist.
The fears come as travel was on a steady rebound, and in late September, Ryanair raised its five-year growth targets due to huge improvements in passenger numbers.
Despite the concerns, Ryanair announced this week it is opening 24 new routes of European destinations, including Chania, Madeira and Menorca.
“Following two summers of on and off again travel restrictions, our UK customers now have 24 new routes to choose from when booking their long-awaited S’22 holidays,” O’Leary said.