Few production sectors have been spared from the crisis resulting from the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, but certainly no sector has been affected as much or as hard as tourism, in particular airlines. Even the beginning of 2021 was no time for optimism, thanks to the heavy travel restrictions still in force to try to curb the spread of new coronavirus variants. When will the sector recover? Here are some data and expert opinions.
For the tourism sector, 2020 was the worst year in recent history, not even the SARS epidemic of 2003 and the economic crisis of 2009 were so devastating for the international travel market. According to data collected by the World Tourism Organization [UNWTO] and published by Statista, the number of international tourist arrivals fell by 74% in 2020 compared to 2019, a decline of about 1 billion [an estimated loss of $ 1.3 trillion in export revenue] which brought the sector back to the levels of the late 1980s. In fact, since 1980, international arrivals had grown continuously from 277 million to almost 1.5 billion in 2019.
“While much has been done in making safe international travel a possibility, we are aware that the crisis is far from over – UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said – The harmonization, coordination and digitalization of COVID-19 travel-related risk reduction measures, including testing, tracing and vaccination certificates, are essential foundations to promote safe travel and prepare for the recovery of tourism once conditions allow.”.
“Last year was a catastrophe. There is no other way to describe it. What recovery there was over the Northern hemisphere summer season, stalled in autumn and the situation turned dramatically worse over the year-end holiday season, as more severe travel restrictions were imposed in the face of new outbreaks and new strains of COVID-19 – said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO – “The world is more locked down today than at virtually any point in the past 12 months and passengers face a bewildering array of rapidly changing and globally uncoordinated travel restrictions.”.
According to data from the International Air Transport Association [IATA] published by Statista, global passenger traffic decreased by 65.9% compared to 2019, as international passenger demand fell by 75.6% and domestic demand fell 48.8% compared to 2019 levels.
IATA predicts 2021 will be another difficult year for battered passenger airlines with demand for air travel expected to reach between 38% and 50% of 2019 levels in 2021, depending on whether one looks at the situation with a more or less optimistic attitude.
The brief recovery of summer 2020 had fuelled hopes in the tourism sector, then disregarded by the second wave of the pandemic started in Autumn. Now travel experts are very cautious in outlining the sector prospects and the most of them do not expect a return to pre-pandemic levels before a period that is estimated to last between 2 and 4 years.