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International air travel still booming

For the first eight months of 2019 (Jan-Aug), international departures were 4.9% up on the equivalent period last year. Even more positively, bookings for travel in the following three months (Sep-Nov) are currently 7.6% ahead of where they were at the end of August 2018.

A special report, timed to coincide with World Tourism Day, has revealed that international air travel is booming. It has been produced by ForwardKeys, which forecasts future travel patterns by analysing an unparalleled mix of travel data, including over 24 million flight search and booking transactions a day.

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said: “2019 has been, and is set to become, another exceptionally good year for travel and tourism, worldwide. That is good news because travel & tourism is an increasingly important driver of export revenue and general prosperity, globally. What I find particularly notable is the resilience of the industry in the face of several potentially adverse events such as Brexit, the China US trade war and political unrest in Hong Kong and the Middle East.

ForwardKeys attributes the favourable report to stable economic growth worldwide, relatively moderate oil prices and reform of visa regulations. Throughout this year, the IMF has forecast global growth in 2019 would be above 3%. Airlines have responded by increasing capacity, most notably between Africa and North America, up 17.9%. Despite the recent attack on Saudi processing facilities, the oil price is still below its peak this year and well below the peak in 2018. A low oil price is helpful to the world economy as a whole, but it benefits aviation disproportionately, as oil makes up at least a fifth of the cost of a typical flight. In the last couple of years, there have been numerous relaxations in visa requirements by different countries, all of which have contributed to making travel easier.

From a geographical perspective, the Asia Pacific region has been leading the way. International departures in the first eight months of 2019 were 7.9% up. Africa is in second place; departures Jan-Aug were 6.0% up. The Americas and Europe are in third and fourth places, registering growth through August at 4.6% and 4.5% respectively. The region of the world which has been struggling is the Middle East; international departures for Jan-Aug were down 1.7%.

The growth highlights in the first eight months have been from Asia Pacific to Europe, up 10.4%, from Africa to the Americas, up 10.1% and from Europe to the Middle East, up 9.7%. The driving factors behind these trends have been the strong Chinese outbound market, aggressive expansion by Ethiopian Airlines, increasing the frequency of its flights to New York, and a continued recovery in tourism to Egypt, which was badly damaged by terrorism incidents in 2015.

Looking ahead over the coming three-month period, September to November, Africa is leading the way; forward bookings are 9.8% ahead of where they were at the end of August last year. Europe is in second place, with forward bookings 8.3% ahead. It is followed by Asia Pacific and the Americas, with forward bookings ahead 7.6% and 6.0% respectively. The Middle East is the laggard, where forward bookings are ahead 2.9%.

The most promising trends in bookings for future travel over the September-November period are from the Americas to the Middle East, ahead 18.4%, from Europe to the Middle East, ahead 14.2% and from Africa to Europe, ahead 15.2%. The driving factors are the recovery of Egypt and Ethiopian Airlines further developing its seating capacity.

Olivier Ponti concluded: “Looking ahead, I see two counterbalancing indicators. Forward bookings are very positive but geopolitical events remain a major concern.”

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