One third of travel industry experts in Asia Pacific expect travel to resume to pre-COVID levels after 2023. Can the industry survive the wait?

As travellers in the Asia Pacific region long for the resumption of global travel, new research from Collinson, the traveller experiences and medical assistance specialist, has pinpointed some key potential issues based on an in-depth survey of travel industry experts.

While most travel experts (89%) believe that it is safe to travel, they are pessimistic about the industry’s recovery – whether due to the policies being put in place, wider perceptions of safety, or both. The data highlights that 31% of respondents in Asia Pacific expect travel to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023, closely followed by 2024 at 25%, and late 2022 with 17%.

The survey was carried out in Apr-2021 by Collinson in partnership with CAPA – Centre for Aviation to capture a snapshot of the opinions of a specially-selected group of over 330 C-Suite and senior managerial level travel experts globally from leading travel industry brands. The responses were secured during CAPA’s virtual monthly event series, CAPA Live, and covered respondents spread over 64 different locations.

Most travel experts in Asia Pacific surveyed overwhelmingly believe that it is now safe to travel – with 11% saying it is “extremely safe” and 30% saying it is “quite safe”, with a further 48% saying it is “extremely safe provided preventative solutions are adhered to”. However, over half (56%) are “very concerned” at reports of fraudulent COVID-19 test results and vaccination passports.

Global herd immunity is a key driver of the return to normality; and yet, because of public resistance to the vaccine in certain locations, coupled with vaccine inequality – this will take a considerably long time.

When asked what they thought was the most plausible scenario by 2022, 30% of experts in Asia Pacific believed herd immunity would be reached in the US, UK and a select few developed nations. By contrast, 27% believed a handful of smaller nations would do so, with the rest of the world including the US and the UK failing to do so. Only 16% believed that most countries in the developed world would achieve herd immunity by next year.

A high number of respondents believed that leisure travel would recover significantly faster than business travel, while in both categories, shorter-haul flights will make a faster comeback. When asked to select the most plausible scenario in 2022 for the recovery of leisure travel, 27% of respondents in Asia say they expect 41-60% of 2019 levels next year. With that in mind, members of the travel ecosystem should continue to prioritise the mental and physical wellbeing of travellers by ensuring there are spaces for them to de-stress and relax during their journey.

Meanwhile, the outlook for business travel markets is weaker than leisure. For short-haul flights, 31% expect to see 41-60% of 2019 levels next year – while 35% of respondents expect long-haul business travel in 2022 will be only 20-40% of 2019 levels.

Despite business travel projecting a slower recovery than leisure travel, companies should “act now to equip their employees with the necessary tools for a safe return to global travel, including robust travel-risk management policies,” says Collinson.

Most Asia Pacific respondents (51%) expect that robust testing protocols will remain key to reopening global borders until end of 2022. Almost one-third (32%) of respondents believe robust testing protocols will remain key for the next 3 years, while just 13% expect testing will be phased out in 2021 in line with the vaccine roll-out.

As such, almost half (49%) of Asia Pacific respondents believe quarantine measures will be phased out by 2022, with a further 11% expecting quarantine measures to be lifted by mid-2021. Yet 30% still believe quarantine measures will remain in place beyond 2021.

Most Asia Pacific respondents (58%) expect aviation market access arrangements by governments to evolve at different rates, depending on the region/market through 2021. Over a quarter (27%) expect aviation market access arrangement by governments to ‘remain the same until at least 2022’, while only 5% expect access arrangements to ‘substantially ease’ or even just ‘start to ease’ as we go through 2021.

“It is therefore critical for governments and members of the travel ecosystem to come together and collaborate for the safe return of global travel,” says Collinson.

Asia Pacific respondents overwhelmingly (75%) shared the view that vaccine passports were of “vital importance”, as governments won’t re-open borders without them. Meanwhile only 18% said they were “not important”, as some governments will allow access regardless of digital health documents. A further 7% said they were “not relevant” compared to other issues, such as mutual recognition of vaccines.

Asia Pacific respondents were also overwhelmingly (76%) concerned by reports of fraudulent COVID-19 test results and vaccination passports surfacing, with only 6% saying they were “not concerned”. In light of this, Collinson is supporting the development of accredited testing solutions, along with Verifly, CommonPass and IATA, including the piloting of digital health passports aimed at reducing the chance of fraudulent activity – while expediting the safe return of global travel.

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