Global View: Mood lifting as air travel study points to low risk and hope for the long term

Four Seasons

There was reassuring news for travellers this week, as Travel Agent Central reported on a study from the International Air Transport Association, which concluded that the risk of contracting Covid-19 aboard an aircraft was low, according to an updated tally of published cases and compiled by the organisation. Since the start of 2020, there have been 44 cases of Covid-19 reported in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight journey (inclusive of confirmed, probable and potential cases), according to IATA. Over the same period, some 1.2 billion passengers have travelled (that’s one case for every 27 million travellers).

New insight into why the numbers were so low came from the joint publication by Airbus, Boeing and Embraer of separate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research conducted by each manufacturer in their aircraft. While methodologies differed slightly, according to IATA, each simulation confirmed that aircraft airflow systems do control the movement of particles in the cabin, limiting the spread of viruses.

The message appeared to be dripping through to the consumer, with Luxury Travel Advisor reporting that MMGY Global’s Travel Safety Barometer showed increasing confidence in the safety of domestic and international travel, cruising, dining and entertainment and lodging. 

For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the Domestic Travel Safety Barometer score rose above 50, indicating travellers are increasingly confident about the idea of traveling. The barometer, which measures perceptions of safety on a scale of 0 (extremely unsafe) to 100 (extremely safe), rose to 52, 22 points higher than it was in April. Wave IX of the TIPS survey, conducted in late September, also found that 46% of respondents said they were likely to take a domestic leisure trip in the next six months. This broke down to 20% each expecting to take a tip within the next 30 days or within three months and 27% planning to do so in the next six months.

There was further hope for the leisure market, as Hotel Management also looked at the latest data from the MMGY Travel Sentiment Index, which found that leisure travel demand was continuing to rise. Covering the Red Lion Hotels’ annual conference, held online this year, the publication found that, while discounting helped the industry survive the global financial crisis 12 years ago, Peter Yesawich, founder of MMGY, expected attractive travel deals will have less influence on future travel decisions than a demonstrated decline in the spread of the virus. “Deals will not bring demand back,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to discount or price your way out of the dilemma, because ... the pricing strategies are not the primary catalyst for bringing demand back.”

Meanwhile, in Europe, attendees of The AHC Reimagined, organised by Questex, heard Thomas Emanuel, director, STR, reassure the sector, commenting: “At STR we believe that long term travel will recover. People’s desire to travel won’t go away. The travel ecosystem has been shaken to its core and it will take years for flight numbers to return. People want to meet, network and learn and once we can meet again there will be more demand.

“We expect rates to come back to 2019 levels by 2024. We need vaccinations, we need cures, we need treatments before we see a return to travel. The UK government were encouraging us to go back to the office, now they are telling us to stay at home. There have been bumps in the road.

“Pickup is now positive. Booking windows are now short - people aren’t making longterm plans. When we look at existing levels of occupancy, we believe that they are going to move back by 5% to 10% in the coming weeks, there is not the pickup to sustain more. Business on the books is a half or a third behind what we would expect to it to be.”

There was further data from Michael Grove, managing director, EMEA, HotStats, who said: “The provinces are outperforming the cities around the world. Government payroll support has been a good thing for the industry. Last year is of little relevance right now, context is key in understanding performance - don’t drive in the dark without your lights on.”

Wise words.