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Dubai Airports CEO talks COVID-19 policy dissonance, DXB figures, and Dubai-London travel corridor

Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths spoke extensively with news organizations yesterday, sharing insights and feedback about many points of interest regarding travel in Dubai and beyond, as well as the impact of COVID-19.

Despite Dubai's position as one of the top travel destinations in the region, Griffiths told Reuters that Dubai airport could see passenger traffic fall 55-65% this year to 30-40 million passengers if it continues on its currently trajectory Griffiths told CNN's John Defterios that differing COVID-19 protocols between countries and airports are still a major hurdle to a return to normal, and that "harmonization" between all these different policies needs to be attained before progress can be made The Dubai Airports CEO believes that the coordination of three things — testing, travel protocol and quarantines — is the “essential next step to be able to get the world moving again, he told CNBC's Hadley Gamble

Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths spoke extensively with news organizations yesterday, sharing insights and feedback about many points of interest regarding travel in Dubai and beyond, as well as the impact of COVID-19. 

Last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) downgraded its traffic forecast for the Middle East for 2020 to reflect a weaker-than-expected recovery. The region is expected to see 60 million travelers in 2020 compared to the 203 million in 2019, down 70%, with a full return to 2019 levels not expected until late 2024. 

Despite Dubai’s position as one of the top travel destinations in the region, Griffiths told Reuters that Dubai airport could see passenger traffic fall 55-65% this year to 30-40 million passengers if it continues on its currently trajectory. 

Griffiths told CNN’s John Defterios that differing COVID-19 protocols between countries and airports are still a major hurdle to a return to normal, and that “harmonization” between all these different policies needs to be attained before progress can be made. 

“At the moment, all those discreet components that are absolutely necessary to get the world back up on its feet are looked at differently across the world and it’s until that harmonization happens, we’re not going to make the progress we need to get to make to get the world moving again,” he said. 

Griffiths believes that the current quarantine policy that is in place in many places across the world, entailing that travelers must self-quarantine for 14 days upon entry into a country, is “actually doing more damage than any of the other single measure because people don’t have the time to be able to spend up to [2 weeks] in quarantine upon reaching their destination.” 

In his conversation with CNBC’s Hadley Gamble, he said that international governments’ failure to come to a unified understanding and agreement on how to properly restart the travel industry is costing the world “tens of trillions of dollars.”

“We don’t have an agreed testing procedure for a reliable, accurate and scalable test, and that needs to happen,” he told CNBC. 

A solution for a new normal

The Dubai Airports CEO believes that the coordination of three things — testing, travel protocol and quarantines — is the “essential next step to be able to get the world moving again. he big problem at the moment is globally, governments are looking at risk elimination. My view is, we’re never going to get there.”

Instead, he believes, countries should be managing risk and striking a balance between safety and kick-starting the global economy.

“What we have to do is take appropriate measures to control and manage the risk, which actually are acceptable,” the Dubai Airports CEO told the Associated Press (AP). “I mean, life is full of risk management. It’s not all full of risk elimination. Surely the same should apply to the virus. We need to get it under control to minimize the risk of infection.”

‘All steps in place for a travel corridor with London’ 

In his conversation with CNN, Griffiths also mentioned that a Dubai-London travel corridor is now much closer to reality. 

“We believe we have all the steps in place both here and in London to make that happen,” he said. “But the thing is of course, before we can get any agreements signed, we have to get the governments on board. If we could get a travel corridor established between here and London, then we could very, very quickly see a massive surge in traveler confidence and the numbers starting to come back, which would be good for the economy.

“It would be good socially and would be a good message to other cities around the world to follow suit. So, we’re really, really keen to be an early adopter of this.”