Coronavirus: International travel won't return to normal until 2024

An international travel body has made the grim prediction that overseas travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels for at least another four years.

Data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says the recovery in air traffic had been slower than expected.

The prediction has been made using airline metric Revenue Passenger Kilometres (RPKs) – a measure of the number of kilometres travelled by paying passengers.

A Qantas plane takes off on a sunny day.
Travel may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. Source: Getty

The IATA found in domestic travel alone, Australia had been one of the hardest countries hit by the coronavirus.

Despite relatively low case numbers compared to other countries, Australia’s RPKs in June 2020 declined by 93.8 per cent compared to June last year.

Three reasons for bleak travel outlook

Slow containment in virus epicentre

According to the IATA, renewed coronavirus outbreaks in the US and China, as well as other developing economies, have resulted in the grim prospect for international travel as those countries make up about 40 per cent of global air travel markets.

“Although developed economies outside of the US have been largely successful in containing the spread of the virus, renewed outbreaks have occurred in these economies, and in China,” the IATA said in a press release.

An international flight check-in board is seen at Sydney Airport.
There are three reasons why international travel has changed. Source: Getty

“Furthermore, there is little sign of the virus containment in many important emerging economies.”

The IATA said the continued closure of borders in these countries resulted in a “significant drag on recovery”.

A drop in business travel

According to data company Statista, global business tourism spending hit a whopping $1,781 billion in 2019.

However with big businesses tightening the belt on corporate travel budgets, the IATA said international business travel would be constrained as companies face financial pressure from the coronavirus.

The IATA said there had also been less of a need for business travel with video conferencing becoming efficient enough to act as a substitute for meetings in person.

Lack of consumer confidence

According to the IATA, there is still a demand from people wanting to visit friends and relatives overseas, however there is a lack of consumer confidence when it comes to concerns over job security, as well as fears of contracting the coronavirus.

An IATA passenger survey conducted in June found more than half of people don’t plan to travel at all this year.

How overseas travel could work as early as 2021

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Darren Rudd said he believed people would be able to travel overseas as early as 2021.

However amid the coronavirus pandemic it would not look exactly how it did in 2019.

Mr Rudd told Yahoo News Australia it would have to involve travel bubbles like the European Union has implemented, which includes opening borders to countries with similar coronavirus spread.

Pictured is a woman sitting on a plane wearing a face mask.
International plane travel will look different from 2021. Source: Getty

In May the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were the first to open their borders to each others' citizens.

Mr Rudd said Australia could realistically open its borders to a travel bubble in the next few months, but to what countries would depend on those that had similar epidemiological patterns to Australia.

He also said if countries in that travel bubble wanted to close off the border to each other due to the rise in coronavirus, there would need to be a pre-agreed checklist for countries so borders could not be impulsively opened and closed.

Mr Rudd said however people would still have to self-isolate in some form.

“It’s a balancing act between the need to open up borders versus the preservation of life,” he said.

Flights would also need to follow similar protocols to that of Europe, with a smaller number of people booked on flights, hygiene packs with sanitiser and masks for passengers and regular announcements and voiceovers warning of standard protocols.

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