The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects overall traveller numbers to reach four billion in 2024 (counting multi-sector connecting trips as one passenger), exceeding pre-Covid-19 levels, 103 per cent of total air travellers recorded in 2019. Expectations for the shape of the near-term recovery have shifted slightly, reflecting the evolution of government-imposed travel restrictions in some markets. The overall picture presented in the latest update to IATA’s long-term forecast, however, is unchanged from what was expected in November 2021, prior to the Omicron variant.
Commenting on the development, Willie Walsh, Director General, IATA, said, “The trajectory for the recovery in passenger numbers from Covid-19 was not changed by the Omicron variant. People want to travel. And when travel restrictions are lifted, they return to the skies. There is still a long way to go to reach a normal state of affairs, but the forecast for the evolution in passenger numbers gives good reason to be optimistic.”
In its February update to the long-term forecast, IATA said that in 2021, overall air traveller numbers were 47 per cent of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 83 per cent in 2022, 94 per cent in 2023, 103 per cent in 2024, and 111 per cent in 2025. In 2021, international traveller numbers were 27 per cent of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 69 per cent in 2022, 82 per cent in 2023, 92 per cent in 2024, and 101 per cent in 2025. In 2021, domestic traveller numbers were 61 per cent of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 93 per cent in 2022, 103 per cent in 2023, 111 per cent in 2024, and 118 per cent in 2025.
This is a slightly more optimistic near-term international recovery scenario compared to November 2021, based on the progressive relaxation or elimination of travel restrictions in many markets by IATA. This has seen improvements in the major North Atlantic and intra-European markets, strengthening the baseline for recovery. Asia-Pacific is expected to continue to lag the recovery with the region’s largest market, China, not showing any signs of relaxing its severe border measures in the near future.
The outlook for the evolution of domestic traveller numbers is slightly more pessimistic than in November. While the US and Russian domestic markets have recovered, the same is not true for the other major domestic markets of China, Canada, Japan, and Australia.“The biggest and most immediate drivers of passenger numbers are the restrictions that governments place on travel. Fortunately, more governments have understood that travel restrictions have little to no long-term impact on the spread of a virus. And the economic and social hardship caused for very limited benefit is simply no longer acceptable in a growing number of markets. As a result, the progressive removal of restrictions is giving a much-needed boost to the prospects for travel,” Walsh commented.
Asia-Pacific: The slow removal of international travel restrictions, and the likelihood of renewed domestic restrictions during Covid outbreaks, mean that traffic to/from/within the Asia Pacific will only reach 68 per cent of 2019 levels in 2022, the weakest outcome of the main regions, according to IATA. ‘2019 levels should be recovered in 2025 (109 per cent) due to slow recovery on international traffic in the region.’
Europe: In the next few years, the intra-Europe market is expected to benefit from passenger preferences for short-haul travel as confidence rebuilds, stated IATA. This will be facilitated by increasingly harmonised and restriction-free movement within the EU. Total passenger numbers to/from/within Europe are expected to reach 86 per cent of 2019 values in 2022, before making a full recovery in 2024 (105 per cent), according to the forecast.