Bookings may have hit the floor, but the sentiment to travel is still active as flight search data reveals that consumers are still dreaming about travel

29 April, 2020

New research from travel analytics expert ForwardKeys shows air travel demand has halved over the first three-and-a-half months of the year, but the sentiment to travel remains strong and provides an upbeat view on recovery with flight search data revealing that consumers are still dreaming about travel.

The data from the Valencia-based company shows that air travel fell to exactly half of what it was in the equivalent period last year over the 01-Jan-2020 to 19-Apr-2020 period.

The drop-off in flight arrivals has been most severe in the Asia Pacific region, where the outbreak started, down -56.1% on the equivalent period in 2019. Europe is next, with arrivals down -50.2%. Travel to Africa & the Middle East is down -42.6%; and travel to the Americas is down -39.8%. However, with over 90% of all flights currently grounded, the year-to-date trend is set to deteriorate substantially in the near term, warns ForwardKeys.

Its analysis of year-to-date flight bookings shows that they are -86.8% down compared to the first 15 weeks of 2019. Bookings from Asia Pacific are down by more than -100%, which means that in the period, new bookings were outweighed by cancellations.

Elsewhere, bookings from Europe were down by -84.7%, from the Americas were down by -75.9% and from Africa & the Middle East were down by -71.4%. Throughout Mar-2020, there have been effectively no new bookings, as well as a massive wave of cancellations - and that pattern has continued into the first two weeks of Apr-2020. The cancellation rate peaked in mid-March, according to ForwardKeys' report.

While air transport has now been reduced to just a skeletal frame, mainly carrying cargo, repatriations and essential travel, there are some noteworthy patterns in the data to bear in mind, says Olivier Ponti, VP insights at ForwardKeys.

"First, the peak for summer holiday bookings is in May, so if the lockdown can end soon, there may yet be a chance to rescue the summer season, at least partially. Second, flight search data strongly suggests that consumers aspire to travel; so, once the restrictions are lifted, the market will eventually come back," he explains.

The company has also undertaken an analysis of flight searches done in several countries during Mar-2020, when most of the population has been in quarantine. It reveals that they are still researching foreign travel and, furthermore, that they have a disproportionate interest in long haul travel in the third and fourth quarters of the year.

"Travel doesn't just stop, it pauses," according to ForwardKeys and its country research highlights just that. People still have a sentiment to travel and industry know needs to tap into this travel market and convert them to a future booker. Its data shows similar trends for Italy, Greece and Spain. People may be in a strict lockdown, but they are still searching for trips overseas.

"The difference simply is a matter of time," says ForwardKeys. Last year in March, they were searching predominantly for flights in the second quarter. This year in March it shows they that they were looking at making trips in third or fourth quarters instead.

As the company notes, positively, this simply demonstrates that no matter the crisis or circumstances, it's in our human DNA to travel. And people are thinking about where to go to once the Coronavirus crisis is settled.