The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects overall traveller numbers to reach 4 billion in 2024, exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels.
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, prior to the spread of the Omicron variant. “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,” said IATA director general Willie Walsh.
According to the February update to the long-term forecast, in 2021, overall traveller numbers were 47% of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 83% in 2022, 94% in 2023, 103% in 2024 and 111% in 2025. IATA also reported that in 2021, international traveller numbers were 27% of 2019 levels. This is expected to improve to 69% in 2022, 82% in 2023, 92% in 2024 and 101% in 2025.
IATA’s figures showed that 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,” said Walsh.
IATA reiterated its call for the removal of all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine and the scrapping of the pre-departure antigen testing to enable quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travellers. It also called – again – for an acceleration of the easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for COVID-19 spread than already exists in the general population.
The forecast does not calculate the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, IATA stressed.