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Is it time to normalise travel once again?

The international knee-jerk response to the Omicron virus was the final blow for many in an already struggling tourism industry, putting paid to yet another peak holiday season. Most establishments, especially in Africa, were all set for a comparatively busy holiday season, only to experience cancellations from all their international clients who were unable to travel.
Is it time to normalise travel once again?

Now, IATA says ‘enough is enough’. It’s time for solutions, not restrictions.

IATA’s annual global passenger traffic results for 2021 show things are slowly improving for the airline industry. It also highlights the devastating effect of the Omicron announcement in late November, last year.

The impact of travel restrictions on flights

When compared to 2019, the overall demand for airline tickets was still 58.4% below normal for 2021. International flights suffered mightily, experiencing a 75.5% decline compared to 2019.

In the wake of the Omicron debacle, December 2021 airline bookings plummeted by 45.1% during December when compared to 2019, performing only a few percentage points better than November’s low season bookings.

Domestic flights took a hit too, down 28.2% compared to 2019.

While other economic factors might have affected domestic travel’s low performance, this decline illustrates the knock-on effect that international bans can have on traveller confidence.

For instance, while international bans don’t prevent travellers from booking flights from Durban to Cape Town, or even from Joburg to George, uncertainty and fear can impact their choices.

More people are opting to visit destinations closer to home where they can travel by car. Many now prefer the privacy offered by self-catering accommodation above the communal dining offered by hotels.

The Omicron effect

When foreign nations lashed out against southern Africa by imposing travel bans, it had a tsunami-like ripple effect that shreds through every layer of society and impacts countries far beyond the intended targets.

In the wake of these announcements, demand for flights to Africa declined by a massive 60.5% when compared to 2019. That’s after a massive initial uptick in bookings when the UK lifted some of its travel restrictions.

Despite this, Africa’s final tally of flight bookings ended up the best among all regions for 2021. However, thanks to the backlash from affected nations as well as the WHO, the Omicron restrictions weren’t long lived. In the end they only set the industry back about two weeks.

Two weeks is a long time in tourism, especially during the busiest time of year, so it’s clear that the travel industry needs to find another way if it ever wants to get back to normal.

A way forward for air travel

According to Willie Walsh, the challenge for the new year centres on reinstating and reinforcing traveller confidence that started to improve mid-2021, so that it reaches pre-pandemic levels.

At the moment, travel arrangements are far from the norm in many destinations, creating stress and discomfort in the travel environment.

Although it’s ever-changing, many destinations across Asia remain virtually isolated, and IATA urges these major markets to re-open as soon as possible. Fortunately, European destinations like France, Switzerland, and the UK have eased travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers considerably.

Most countries don’t require a negative PCR test anymore if you can provide proof of vaccination.

In this light, travel journalists have predicted that 2022 is looking promising for travel.

Sebastian Modik of Lonely Planet suggests there hasn’t been a more promising time for travel since March 2020.

Before Omicron raised its head, most travellers were planning to expand their domestic travel plans considerably, with a small but growing percentage intenton heading overseas once again.

Until these numbers improve, destinations may need to focus on attracting the local trade until things settle down to normal.

When will travel bans go away?

The coronavirus probably isn’t the first major health threat to impose itself on the world, and it won’t be the last.

What it has highlighted is a need for greater awareness of viral transmission between people and better management of situations where people come into close contact with one another.

Travel bans aside, people are realising that most normal activities are possible provided they follow the necessary precautions – safeguards that have become second-nature by now.

If we maintain this level of vigilance, it’s possible to prevent a similar disaster from occurring in future and the travel industry can only look forward to a vastly improved situation from now on.

While travel bans and restrictions are certainly easing, there’s a chance they might be with us in one way or another for a long time to come in order to prevent another catastrophe of this nature.

Sources provided and https://www.euronews.com/travel/2022/01/17/what-s-the-latest-on-european-travel-restrictions; https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/28/travel-in-2022-is-it-time-to-plan-those-big-trips-abroad.html.


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