Hwaseong, South Korea – New figures show that Asia-Pacific countries have almost completely missed the global revival of air travel, with flights still down more than 90 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The region is the only part of the world that has seen virtually no improvement in air travel over the past year, with traffic rising just 0.3 percent in October compared to September.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released the numbers Thursday as it warned that a raft of travel bans to stem the spread of the Omicron coronavirus threatens to derail global aviation’s fragile recovery.
Travel in the Asia-Pacific region was down 93.1 percent in October 2021 compared to October 2019 — almost unchanged from the 92.8 percent drop recorded in September 2021 compared to two years earlier, according to the WTO.
By comparison, airlines in the Middle East saw demand rise by about 7 percentage points, with October traffic down 60.3 percent compared to before the pandemic. European carriers saw demand rise by about 6 percentage points, with traffic down just 50.6 percent compared to October 2019.
Latin American airlines posted an increase of more than 6 percentage points, with October traffic down 55.1 percent.
North American airlines saw a 57 percent drop in traffic compared to 2019, an improvement from a 61.4 percent drop in September.
African airline traffic fell 60.2% in October, compared to 62.1% during the same period in 2019.
IATA Director-General Willie Walsh said governments were putting the recovery at risk by implementing an “unwise” travel ban despite criticism from the World Health Organization for such measures.
“October’s traffic performance reinforces that people will travel when they are allowed to,” Walsh said. “Unfortunately, government responses to the emergence of the Omicron variant have jeopardized global connectivity that has taken so long to rebuild.”
“The logic of WHO’s advice was evident within days of Omicron being identified in South Africa, with its presence already confirmed on all continents. Unwise travel bans are as ineffective as closing the barn door after a horse has withdrawn.”
Although vaccination rates are close to maximum in many parts of the region, The Asia Pacific region has been largely closed to non-essential travel Even before the new variant appeared.
The World Health Organization has classified Omicron as a “variable of concern”. While some scientists fear the variant might be more transmissible or easier to avoid, health officials stressed that little is known about the strain.
While dozens of countries in recent days have banned travel from South Africa, where the alternative was first discovered, including countries JapanSouth Korea and Australia Comprehensive measures have been taken to restrict travel on a large scale.
In 2019, about 291 million tourists visited the Asia-Pacific region, contributing about $875 billion to the economy, according to data from the World Economic Forum.
Last month, the International Labor Organization estimated that only five Asian countries – the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei and Mongolia – lost 1.6 million jobs Last year due to the collapse of international travel.
Gary Borman, director of travel and tourism research firm Kuala Lumpur, Check In Asia, said Al Jazeera Travel in the region faces a “tremendous face to climb”.
“We’re starting to see a degree of momentum build up in November, particularly in Southeast Asia where some countries are gradually starting, or are preparing to, reopen their borders,” Bowerman said. “Omicron has stopped this, and this week we have seen a rapid decline in travel by governments across the region as they erect new barriers to entry and exit.”