Hwaseong, South Korea—— New data shows that Asia-Pacific countries have almost completely missed the recovery of global air travel, and flights are still down by more than 90% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
This region is the only region in the world that has seen little improvement in air travel in the past year. Compared with September, passenger traffic in October increased by only 0.3%.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released the data on Thursday as it warned that a series of travel bans implemented to prevent the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant could undermine the fragile recovery of the global aviation industry.
According to data from the trade organization, travel in the Asia-Pacific region in October 2021 fell by 93.1% compared with October 2019—compared to two years ago, the 92.8% decline in September 2021 was almost unchanged.
In contrast, Middle Eastern airlines’ demand increased by nearly 7 percentage points, and passenger traffic in October fell by 60.3% compared to before the pandemic. European airlines’ demand has increased by nearly 6 percentage points, and passenger traffic has only fallen by 50.6% compared to October 2019.
Latin American airlines reported growth of more than 6 percentage points, and passenger traffic fell 55.1% in October.
Compared with 2019, North American airlines’ passenger traffic dropped by 57%, which is an improvement from the 61.4% drop in September.
African airlines’ passenger traffic fell by 60.2% in October, compared with a 62.1% drop in the same period in 2019.
Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, said that despite the World Health Organization’s criticism of such measures, governments imposed “unwise” travel bans, putting economic recovery at risk.
“The traffic conditions in October indicate that people will travel with permission,” Walsh said. “Unfortunately, the government’s response to the emergence of Omicron variants is endangering the global connectivity it has taken a long time to rebuild.”
“Within a few days after Omicron confirmed his identity in South Africa, the logic of the WHO recommendations became obvious. Its existence has been confirmed on all continents. An unwise travel ban is like closing a barn door after a horse has finished running. Same invalid.”
Although the vaccination rate in many areas of the region is close to the highest level, Non-essential travel is basically prohibited in the Asia-Pacific region Even before new variants appeared.
The WHO has designated Omicron as a “variant of concern”. Although some scientists worry that this variant may be easier to spread or evade vaccines, health officials emphasize that little is known about the strain.
Although dozens of countries have banned travel from southern Africa where this variant was first discovered in recent days, but including Japan, Korea and Australia More comprehensive measures have been taken to restrict travel extensively.
According to data from the World Economic Forum, approximately 291 million tourists visited the Asia-Pacific region in 2019, contributing approximately US$875 billion to the economy.
Last month, the ILO estimated that only five Asian countries—the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei, and Mongolia—have lost 1.6 million jobs Last year due to the collapse of international travel.
Gary Bowerman, director of Check-in Asia, a travel and tourism research company based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera that travel in the area faces “huge cliffs.”
“We started to see a certain degree of momentum gaining in November, especially in Southeast Asia, as some countries are gradually starting or preparing to reopen their borders,” Bowerman said. “Omicron has prevented this, and this week we saw governments in the region quickly withdraw from travel as they set new entry and exit barriers.”