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Travel demand shows slight uptick in May but remains well below pre-pandemic levels

Travel demand shows slight uptick in May but remains well below pre-pandemic levels

Both international and domestic travel demand showed marginal improvement in May but remained significantly below pre-pandemic levels, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) , as arrival quarantine persists in many countries. Middle Eastern airlines experienced an 81.3 demand drop in May compared to May 2019, slightly bettering the 82.9 percent decrease in April,

Both international and domestic travel demand showed marginal improvement in May but remained significantly below pre-pandemic levels, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) , as arrival quarantine persists in many countries.

Middle Eastern airlines experienced an 81.3 demand drop in May compared to May 2019, slightly bettering the 82.9 percent decrease in April, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 63.7 percent, and load factor fell 35.3 percentage points to 37.7 percent.

Although some international markets are welcoming vaccinated travelers, which has supported the slight uptick in demand, recovery continues to be thwarted by extensive government travel restrictions.

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The UAE has languished on the UK’s travel red list since January 29, meaning that all UK arrivals must quarantine in a costly government-mandated hotel for ten days. Saudi Arabia this week banned entry to the kingdom for travelers from the UK, while restrictions remain for a number of key markets, including India and South Africa.

“We are starting to see positive developments, with some international markets opening to vaccinated travelers,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

“The northern hemisphere summer travel season is now fully arrived. And it is disappointing that more governments are not moving more rapidly to use data to drive border opening strategies that would help revive tourism jobs and reunite families,” he continued.

Total demand for air travel in May 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 62.7 percent compared to May 2019. That was a gain over the 65.2 percent decline recorded in April 2021 versus April 2019.

International passenger demand in May saw a slight improvement when compared to April at 85.1 percent below May 2019 versus the 87.2 percent.

All regions contributed to this modest improvement, with the exception of Asia-Pacific which saw international traffic fall 94.3 percent compared to May 2019, fractionally worse than the 94.2 percent drop registered in April 2021 versus April 2019.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Willie Walsh.

“To paraphrase an old saying, when you think that all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Too many governments continue to act as if the only tool in their anti-Covid-19 arsenal is a blanket border closure or an arrival quarantine. In fact, research from leading medical organisations around the globe confirms that vaccinated travelers pose very little risk to the local population while data shows that pre-departure testing largely removes the risk of unvaccinated travelers importing Covid-19,” said Walsh.

“It is long past time for governments to start responding to this information with more nuanced data-driven risk-based strategies. These will minimise the chance of importing Covid-19 while allowing the world to reopen to travel and all the opportunities it brings to reconnect with loved ones, to realise business opportunities, to explore the world or take a well-deserved vacation,” he continued.

Total domestic demand was down 23.9 percent versus pre-crisis levels (May 2019), although it slightly improved from April 2021, when domestic traffic was down 25.5 percent versus the 2019 period. China and Russia traffic continue to be in in positive growth territory compared to pre-coronavirus levels, while India and Japan saw significant deterioration amid new variants and outbreaks.

In April, IATA said that the Middle East is likely to see the slowest demand rebound of any in the world with North America seeing the fastest (down 41.5 percent on 2019). It added that the region’s airline capacity is likely to be 59 percent down on 2019 although losses are set to shrink to $4.2 billion from $7.9bn last year.

Globally, IATA said it expects net airline industry losses of $47.7bn in 2021, an improvement on the estimated net industry loss of $126.4bn in 2020.

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