The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the top industry body for air travel in the world, has said that international travel is unlikely to be widespread until 2023. The news is more hopeful for domestic travel, however, which is expected to resume to almost normal levels by the end of this year.
Some international trips may resume next year, but likely for professional or essential reasons, as quarantine measures and closed borders make travel for recreational or holidaying purposes impractical. International travel at the same levels as 2019 is highly unlikely until a vaccine can be produced and administered. Even after a vaccine is widely available, trust in international travel is going to take years to rehabilitate, according to the IATA, meaning airlines will be forced to charter fewer planes.
If this prediction bears out, it will be a drastic blow to Australia’s tourism sector, which was already reeling from the impact of the bushfire crisis just weeks before borders were sealed and the nation was placed under shutdown conditions. Australia usually welcomes more than eight million visitors a year, who inject billions of dollars into the economy; in 2019, tourists spent $43.9 million dollars with Australian businesses.
Since 2009, as long haul air travel has become more affordable thanks to more efficient fuel consumption, the number of annual visitors has skyrocketed. In the past decade, the number of annual visitors has grown by more than 3 million.
According to the IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac, who appeared on ABC Breakfast News on May 14, plans are underway to reboot international air travel in stages, by firstly rehabilitating domestic markets, followed by continental markets (in Australia’s case this would include the Asia-Pacific region) with the aim of regaining around 50 per cent of flights by the end of 2020. One small consolation is that travel between Australia and New Zealand is likely to resume when domestic travel is restarted, although this is yet to be officially confirmed.