The International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to make data-driven decisions to manage the risks of COVID-19 when reopening borders to international travel. Strategies without quarantine measures can enable international travel to restart with a low risk of introduction of COVID-19 to the travel destination.
Evidence continues to show that vaccination protects travelers from serious illness and death, according to IATA, and carries a low risk of introducing the virus into destination countries:
● The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) issued interim guidance on the benefits of full vaccination stating that “the likelihood of an infected vaccinated person transmitting the disease is currently assessed to be very low to low.”
● The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) stated that “with a 90% effective vaccine, pre-travel testing, post-travel testing, and 7-day self-quarantine provide minimal additional benefit.”
● The Canadian Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel recommends that vaccinated travelers do not need to be quarantined.
● A Public Health England study has concluded that two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against COVID-19 variants of concern.
Testing for Unvaccinated Travelers
Data from the UK NHS regarding international travelers arriving in the UK (with no reference to vaccination status) shows that the vast majority of travelers pose no risk for the introduction of COVID-19 cases after arrival.
Between February 25 and May 5, 2021, 365,895 tests were conducted on arriving passengers to the UK. These were PCR negative before travel. Only 2.2% tested positive for COVID-19 infection during universal quarantine measures after their arrival.
“Many governments continue to require universal quarantine—either hotel-managed or self-managed. This impedes the freedom of movement, discourages international travel, and destroys employment in the travel and tourism sector. Data from the UK tells us that we can and must do better,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General.
Domestic travelers buoy Dubai tourism
An overwhelming majority (87%) of consumers in the UAE are satisfied with their stay in Dubai hotels since the beginning of the pandemic, and eight in ten consumers are confident hotels apply the required level of sanitization, according to KPMG’s report on Dubai’s hospitality industry. Despite strong outbound travel restrictions among many of the UAE’s main source markets, Suite success: Dubai hospitality survey 2021 fuels hopes of recovery for the emirate’s hospitality sector. More than half (55%) of consumers surveyed were willing to stay at a hotel in Dubai, notwithstanding COVID-19, with 85% willing to return.
Sidharth Mehta, Partner, Head of Real Estate, KPMG Lower Gulf, said: “Dubai’s popularity as a staycation destination has been key in supporting the emirate’s hospitality sector. New developments, such as Ain Dubai and the Museum of the Future, successful mass immunization, and safety protocols followed by properties will increase Dubai’s appeal as a safe destination.”
Despite the odds, the UAE recorded the second-highest occupancy rates globally (54%), behind China, in 2020. Dubai’s occupancy rates steadily improved since April 2020, touching a 12-month high of 69% last December, dipping to 59.4% this April. While international arrivals plummeted, the number of room nights sold to domestic tourists increased by 107%, surging from 2.74 million in 2019 to 5.68 million in 2020.
Revenue per available room (RevPAR) in Dubai grew by more than 550% during 2020. After hitting a low of $17.2 at the start of the pandemic, RevPAR reached a peak of $114.7 in December 2020. As of April 2021, RevPAR stood at $92.9.
IATA announced that domestic travel demand improved in April 2021 compared to the prior month.
- Total demand for air travel in April 2021 measured in RPKs was down 65.4% compared to April 2019. That was an improvement over the 66.9% decline recorded in March 2021 versus March 2019. The better performance was driven by gains in most domestic markets.
- Total domestic demand was down 25.7% versus pre-crisis levels (April 2019), much improved over March 2021, when domestic traffic was down 31.6% versus the 2019 period.
Middle Eastern airlines posted an 82.9% demand drop in April compared to April 2019, which was weaker than the 81.6% decline in March, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 65.3%, and load factor fell 41 percentage points to 39.6%.
Air cargo carries its weight
IATA released April 2021 data for global air cargo markets showing that air cargo demand continued to outperform pre-COVID levels (April 2019) with demand up 12%.
Global demand, measured in cargo ton-kilometers (CTKs*), was up 12% compared to April 2019 and 7.8% compared to March 2021. Seasonally adjusted demand is now 5% higher than the pre-crisis August 2018 peak.
Capacity remains 9.7% below pre-COVID-19 levels (April 2019) due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft.
“Air cargo continues to be the good news story for the air transport sector. Some regions are outperforming the global trend, most noticeably carriers in North America, the Middle East, and Africa,” said Walsh.
Middle Eastern carriers posted a 15.3% rise in international cargo volumes in April 2021 versus April 2019. This was a significant improvement compared to the previous month.