A month after the worldwide lockdown, border closure and major travel restrictions within and between countries resulted in over 90 per cent decrease in the number of air passengers. Land and water transportation also experienced cancellations as people were cautious of crowded places.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) analysis global passenger demand fell by 14.1 per cent in February 2020 resulting from the effects of the corona virus on Asia-Pacific markets.
“Airlines were hit by a sledgehammer called COVID-19 in February,” IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac said in an article by International Airport Review. “Borders were closed in an effort to stop the spread of the virus and the impact on aviation has left airlines with little to do except cut costs and take emergency measures in an attempt to survive in these extraordinary circumstances”.
In Africa the aviation industry could lose up to $6billion in revenue this year due to the travel restrictions put in place to avoid the spread of the virus, as estimated by IATA.
“Many of the airlines across the continent are in dire need of financial support to be able to continue their existence,” said Raphael Kuuchi, Vice President for IATA, Africa, during a video conference in July 2020.
Various industries in Africa are looking for new strategies to address job losses and other pandemic related crises.
Cash injection into the industry
Commenting on business in the aviation industry, Kuuchi added, “We want African governments to come in and support the African aviation industry with cash injections to start with”.
Such support should be aimed not at increasing industry debt but providing financial relief to enable the affected businesses during the restart and recovery period.
“… millions of jobs and livelihoods are at risk in family-run enterprises and large corporations along the entire travel and tourism value chain. For Africa’s economic recovery and future prosperity, it is essential to expedite the safe restart of the industry,” said Muhammad Al Bakri, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East.
Over the last six months, for example, Kenya Airways has recorded losses of about US$132 million from flight disruptions leading to the grounding of aircraft. The airline, like many others in the region have been forced to lay-off some staff, and reduce salaries, among many other activities aimed at reducing pressure on its operations.
Some governments including Rwanda, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, have been lauded by IATA for providing relief to aviation as of August 2020.
“Their actions have helped save thousands of jobs and will enable some airlines to restart and support the wider economies they serve. But the situation is worsening. Continued relief measures are essential to minimize job losses and ensure that connectivity can be restored. We urge African governments and the development institutions who have committed funding to provide it urgently in a structure that does not weaken already stressed airline balance sheets, before it is too late,” said Al Bakri.
Increase in domestic and regional travel
With international travels being restricted, travelers are seeking new ways to unwind while remaining safe. Thus, domestic travel is picking up. Travelers are seeking to explore neighboring cities and regions. Road trips, countryside getaways and family visits are increasingly gaining popularity as people want to make up for the downtime.
In the post-Coronavirus travel, domestic and regional tourism has become one of the main trends that the industry should take advantage of. Following the pandemic, customers are now making random travel plans. Today, travel agencies are working more with customers with short booking windows, compared to the period prior to the pandemic where long booking windows dominated. The number of bookings within 2-30 days before a trip has increased while reservations with more than 91 days continue to fall.
According to the Adara Traveler Trends Tracker, booking windows in EMEA region (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) changed:
- The number of those travelling for leisure with 91+ days advanced flight booking fell tremendously, especially between the months of March and May. Although the numbers picked up from May onwards, the booking window most preferred by many travelers was 0-15 days.
- Those booking flights to travel for business still preferred 0-15 days booking window. However, the numbers of those travelling for business fell by more than half in the period after the worldwide lockdown.
- For hotel bookings, both business and leisure travelers are now booking for their stay within 0-15 days. For leisure travelers however, this is a great change as the booking window most preferred prior to the pandemic was 91+ days advanced hotel booking.
In the coming months, different travel products such as small-group charters, purchasing suite and villa accommodations, booking private transfers and private safari vehicles), will see a surge not experienced before. Additionally, private accommodations, and especially those in remote areas will be most preferred by many holidaymakers. According to Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, there has been an increase in bookings in Africa, particularly, the uptake in small-group journeys for people who want to travel together while staying in their ‘private bubble’.
“This has been increasing significantly compared to prior years,” Banda said. “We have new small-group safaris for 2021 that have a maximum of six people. These trips spend more time in nature and offer more private options and keep clients’ bubbles small.”
Moreover, travelers are looking for more flexible bookings that allow last minute cancellation, reimbursement or exchange. Travel companies are adopting new strategies that allow clients to take slower safaris during this COVID-19 era and flexible cancellation terms. Luxury experiential travel company AndBeyond, is allowing up to 100% refunds on cancellation up to 48 hours before travel, according to Nicole Robinson, chief marketing officer at andBeyond.
If the travel and tourism industry keep these changes in mind, the strategies might be a game changer for the business as COVID-19 continues to suspend life as we knew it.