International Air Transport Association (Iata) director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac has criticised a number of major countries, by name, for recently adopting policies that, although intended to counter the Covid-19 pandemic, are doing great damage to the travel and tourist sector around the world. Speaking at Iata’s first Covid-19 briefing for 2021, he highlighted that these and other countries were preventing the recovery of the travel and tourist economy, destroying jobs and inflicting continuing mental health stresses on many people (especially those separated from their loved ones).
“Instead of a boost from the year-end holiday period, we got even more restrictions,” he highlighted. “Governments tightened borders in a knee-jerk response to a virus mutation. Canada, [the] UK, Germany, Japan and others added testing to their Covid-19 measures without removing quarantine requirements. In other words, they have chosen policy measures that will shut down travel. This approach tells us that these governments are not interested in managing a balanced approach to the risks of Covid-19. They appear to be aiming for a zero-Covid world. That is an impossible task that comes with severe consequences – the full extent of which it would be impossible to calculate.”
Iata still expected that the global airline industry would again be generating cash by the end of this year. But the association’s chief economist, Brian Pearce, warned that airlines would still be burning cash through the first three quarters of this year. The next six months, in particular, would be difficult for the sector. The world’s airlines were expected to burn through some $25-billion during this first quarter, followed by another $18-billion or so in the second quarter and by yet a further $5-billion in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, the global sector was expected to generate cash amounting to only $1-billion or so.
Pearce observed that the recovery, which started in October and November last year, in the Reuters Global Airlines share price index showed that, as far as the financial markets were concerned, the pandemic was over. The fact that the Reuters airline index lagged significantly below the FTSE All World share price index made it clear that investors were fully aware of the challenges still facing the airline industry.
Regarding forward bookings of airline tickets, the announcements of the development of vaccines for Covid-19 had not yet given these any boost, he reported. Forward bookings for February and March this year were more than 80% down on the same period last year. In monthly terms, forward bookings for this month were 75% down, year-on-year, while for February the equivalent fall was 82% and for March 81%.
“A more balanced public policy approach [to Covid-19] is needed – one that is based on testing as a replacement for quarantines so that we can begin addressing the severe side-effects of Covid-19 policies,” argued De Juniac. “Science tells us that travelers will not be a significant factor in community transmission if testing is used effectively.”