Singapore: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) believes that lingering travel restrictions and border measures are holding back the recovery of the Asia Pacific travel and tourism industry. It also said that the Asia-Pacific region's international passenger demand for March reached 17 percent of pre-COVID levels, after hovering at below 10 percent for most of the last two years. Based on IATA data, India's domestic passenger load factor in March 2022 was a healthy 82.3 percent which compares favourably with other markets. Corresponding figures for March domestic passenger load factor in the U.S. was 87.2 percent and the average for the rest of the world's domestic markets measured by IATA was 79.2 percent.
India's domestic air traffic based on passengers carried for the first three months of this year is at about 70 percent of that in 2019, the last full pre-COVID year. Based on data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the total number of passengers carried between January to March of 2022 was 24.8 million. For the same period in 2019, this number was 35.45 million. India is expecting to reach and then exceed pre-COVID domestic passenger traffic in the months to come. "I am very confident in the days to come, in the months to come, within the next year, we will surpass the pre-Covid level of 415,000 daily passengers", said Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia at an air show in Hyderabad in March.
Indeed, with respect to reopening the skies to travel, India is well ahead of its Asia-Pacific peers. The difference is especially glaring when compared to China and Japan, two large Asian domestic markets. "So long as the Chinese government continues to maintain their zero-COVID approach, it is hard to see the country's borders reopening. This will hold back the region's full recovery," said Wille Walsh, the Director General of IATA in a speech at the Changi Aviation Summit in Singapore earlier in May." He urged the Japanese government to take bolder steps towards recovery and opening of the country's borders. Walsh added, "While Japan has taken steps to allow travel, there is no clear plan for the reopening of Japan for all inbound visitors or tourists. More needs to be done to further ease travel restrictions, starting with lifting quarantine for all vaccinated travellers, and removing both the on-arrival airport testing and daily arrival cap."
China and Japan are the two markets with the greatest impact on Asia-Pacific's air passenger traffic falling behind the rest of the world and thereby affecting the recovery of the region's travel and tourism sector. Singapore, on the other hand has removed all restrictions on vaccinated travellers. However, unvaccinated travellers are required to apply for permission to enter, take a pre-departure test and serve a seven-day isolation period at the traveller's place of residence or accommodation. Singapore Airlines said earlier this month that it carried 1.45 million passengers in April, the most since the virus outbreak. The airline has restored about 60 percent of pre-COVID capacity.
As travel restrictions ease, emboldening people to travel again, Singapore's national carrier has been progressively reinstating services to several destinations and increasing frequencies on existing routes. At the end of March, the carrier's passenger network covered a total of 93 destinations in 36 countries and territories, up from 85 as at December. Before COVID, the airline had a network consisting of 137 destinations in 37 countries and territories. Based on current published schedules, Singapore Airlines expects passenger capacity to reach 61 percent of pre-COVID levels by June 2022 and expect passenger capacity to reach around 67 percent of per-health crisis levels by September. It is projecting that by September, it will serve over 70 percent of its pre-COVID destinations. IATA reported that Asia-Pacific region's international passenger demand for March reached 17 percent of pre-COVID levels, far below the global trend where markets have recovered to 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels. The global air transport association believes this is because of government restrictions and the sooner they are lifted, the sooner the regional travel industry will return to where it was.
The steps IATA suggested governments take include lifting the mask mandate for air travel and removing quarantine and COVID-19 testing requirements for unvaccinated travellers where there are high levels of population immunity, which is the case in most parts of Asia. "Supporting and more importantly accelerating the recovery will need a whole of industry and government approach. Airlines are bringing back the flights. Airports need to be able to handle the demand. And governments need to be able to process security clearances and other documentation for key personnel efficiently," said Walsh.—ANI