IATA forecast optimistic for tourism prospects

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Tourism Economics have released a long-term view for post-COVID-19 passenger demand recovery. It demonstrates that people remain eager to travel in the short and long-term, but it will take until 2023 for global passenger numbers to exceed pre-COVID levels.

Forecast highlights include:

  • In 2021 global passenger numbers are expected to recover to 52% of pre-COVID-19 levels (2019).
  • In 2022 global passenger numbers are expected to recover to 88% of pre-COVID-19 levels.
  • In 2023 global passenger numbers are expected to surpass pre-COVID-19 levels (105%).
  • By 2030 global passenger numbers are expected to have grown to 5.6 billion. That would be 7% below the pre-COVID-19 forecast and an estimated loss of 2-3 years of growth due to COVID-19.

Beyond 2030 air travel is expected to slow, due to weaker demographics and a baseline assumption of limited market liberalisation, giving average annual growth between 2019 and 2039 of 3%. IATA’s pre-COVID-19 growth forecast for this period was 4%.

The recovery in passenger numbers is slightly stronger than the recovery in demand measured in revenue passenger kilometres, which is expected to grow by an annual average of 3% between 2019 and 2039. This is owing to the expected strength of domestic markets like China with large passenger numbers and shorter distances.

Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general comments; “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.”

The forecast also found:

  • The damage of the COVID-19 crisis will be felt for years to come, but all indications are that people have retained their need and desire to travel.
  • Any possibility for borders to re-open is met with an instant surge in bookings.
  • The economy is strong and can fuel growth in travel.
  • Consumers have accumulated savings in the lockdowns.
  • Vaccination rates in most developed countries should exceed 50% of the population by the third quarter of 2021.

This should be a clarion call to governments to get ready. The travel sector is a major contributor to GDP. To avoid greater long-term economic and social damage, IATA urges governments that the restart must not be delayed.

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 so ensuring that a safe restart is also efficient.