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“Government Decisions Not Driven by Data”: Willie Walsh

“Government Decisions Not Driven by Data”: Willie Walsh

Willie Walsh, Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has criticised governments’ approach to restoring international travel as July shows marked improvement compared to June but still lags way below pre-pandemic levels.

Extensive government-imposed travel restrictions continue to delay recovery in international markets.

European carriers saw their July international traffic decline 64.2% versus July 2019, significantly bettering the 77.0% decrease in June compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped 53.8% and load factor fell 19.9 percentage points to 69.0%.

Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to July 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

  • Total demand for air travel in July 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 53.1% compared to July 2019. This is a significant improvement from June when demand was 60% below June 2019 levels.
  • International passenger demand in July was 73.6% below July 2019, bettering the 80.9% decline recorded in June 2021 versus two years ago. All regions showed improvement and North American airlines posted the smallest decline in international RPKs (July traffic data from Africa was not available).
  • Total domestic demand was down 15.6% versus pre-crisis levels (July 2019), compared to the 22.1% decline recorded in June over June 2019. Russia posted the best result for another month, with RPKs up 28.9% vs. July 2019.

“July results reflect people’s eagerness to travel during the Northern Hemisphere summer. Domestic traffic was back to 85% of pre-crisis levels, but international demand has only recovered just over a quarter of 2019 volumes,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

“The problem is border control measures. Government decisions are not being driven by data, particularly with respect to the efficacy of vaccines.

“People traveled where they could, and that was primarily in domestic markets.

A recovery of international travel needs governments to restore the freedom to travel. At a minimum, vaccinated travelers should not face restrictions. That would go a long way to reconnecting the world and reviving the travel and tourism sectors,” he added.

JULY 2021
(% VS JULY 2019)
WORLD SHARE​1 RPK ASK PLF (%-PT)​2 PLF (LEVEL)​3
Total Market
100.0%
-53.1%
-45.2%
-12.4%
73.1%
Asia Pacific
38.6%
-62.7%
-54.1%
-15.4%
67.5%
Europe
23.7%
-56.5%
-46.5%
-16.5%
72.5%
Latin America
5.7%
-44.5%
-40.5%
-5.8%
79.3%
Middle East
7.4%
-73.2%
-57.5%
-30.0%
51.3%
North America
22.7%
-28.5%
-24.7%
-4.5%
84.1%

1) % of industry RPKs in 2020    2) Change in load factor vs. the same month in 2019    3) Load Factor Level

The Bottom Line

“As the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season draws to a close it is clear that too many governments missed the opportunity to apply a risk-based approach to managing their borders,” said Walsh.

“The growing number of fully vaccinated travelers and the prevalence of testing provided the chance to restore international connectivity and bring much needed relief to economies that are heavily reliant on travel and tourism.

“Instead, governments continued to behave as if it was the summer of 2020. Economies and the labor force will pay the price for decisions that were made not based on science, but on political expediency.

“Governments have rightly urged their populations to be vaccinated; now governments need to have confidence in the benefits of vaccinations—including the freedom to travel.”

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Fionn Davenport is the editor-in-chief of the ITTN group, including ITTN and ITTN Ireland. He's one of Ireland's best-known travel journalists and writers, with nearly 30 years' experience writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet and others.

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