It looks like international travel will not recover to pre-covid levels until 2023 at the earliest, and is more likely to be 2024.

If you think back to the start of the COVID pandemic you will probably picture empty supermarket shelves, thanks in no small amount to people panic buying due to the disruption caused by the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. However, this shortage didn’t last long thankfully, as the fulfilment system adjusted to meet the new customer demands.

However, one shortage that has not been alleviated is the shortage of international travellers for the holiday industry. Planes are still less than half full most of the time, and many of the world airports remain nearly empty. In fact, the UN’s World Travel Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that 54 million tourists crossed international borders in July 2021 which is 67% less than the same month in 2019. However, it’s not all bad news as the figures for 2022 look less gloomy.

It looks like more people are starting to rediscover the pleasure of jumping on a plan to take the holiday of a lifetime, attend a family wedding, or just getaway for the weekend. And it’s not just leisure travel that is on the up, more and more business executives are taking to the air again, happy to be free from video calls.

In the decade before the pandemic hit, international travel rapidly grew, with the number of international travellers tripling between 1990 and 2019, thanks to the increase in budget airlines and people having more leisure time. These forces are set to be a big influence on the travel industry again, along with an increase in prosperity for many people as well.

Quite early on in the pandemic, most travel forecasters predicted that international travel would not recover until 2023 or even 2024 – and this still seems a reasonable bet. Restrictions on international travel are still tight, although they are slowly lifting.

At the moment, only three countries are imposing no COVID related restrictions on visitors – and these are Columbia, Costa Rica and Mexico. 88 other countries are still completely closed, and many more have strict testing and quarantine policies in place.

But as the number of COVID infections continues to fall, and vaccination numbers rise, it seems likely that these travel rules will be relaxed and more international travel routes will reopen. After all, much of the world’s population was barred from entering the United States in 2020 and 2021, until it changed its rules this November.

It is important to keep in mind that this recovery will likely be an uneven one, as although domestic travel in large countries such as America, has bounced back – long-haul travel still remains at a low level as people await the simplification of travel rules and regulations and a more widespread uptake in vaccinations.

Foreign holiday bookings do surge when countries lift restrictions on international travel. and unless a new COVID variant is discovered, then this pent-up demand should start to see fuller planes on short-haul routes at least. However, many businesses have already stated that they intend to spend less on travel in the future, with some surveys suggesting that business travel budgets are being cut by up to 40%. Many meetings and conferences will remain virtual, or even go hybrid with only a few people attending in person.

One type of international travel that has not seen a decline in fortunes is that of the super-rich, with the soaring demand for seats on private jets likely to continue as the wealthy sidestep the barriers that face the rest of us. WingX, a business aviation intelligence firm, recently revealed that there were 70% more flights by business jets in the first eight months of 2021, compared to 40% fewer commercial flights.

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