The travel sector is looking up

With more people taking flights, airlines have reason to be optimistic, but challenges remain

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By all indicators, the travel industry is seeing a healthy resurgence after two years of Covid-19 when health concerns, lockdowns and other restrictions around the world prevented many from flying. Now, with leisure travel having resumed in most places, the industry has been afforded a measure of respite.

Besides being an attractive destination in itself, the UAE's location makes it a prime spot for travel and connecting flights. The recent Eid rush at airports in the UAE, when more than 1.9 million passengers were said to have flown to or from Dubai International Airport between April 28 and May 9, speaks to this resurgence.

The industry was already seeing a gradual return. In the UAE, in the first four months of this year, 2.35 million passengers flew on flydubai, a low-cost airline, which is more than double the airline's passenger count in the same quarter last year.

Considering the high vaccination rates in developed countries, and broad relaxation of Covid-19 rules and restrictions in several destinations across the world, more plane tickets are being booked and suitcases are being dusted off. In April, the US removed 89 countries from its "Do Not Fly list". Several American airlines no longer require passengers to wear a mask on planes, though mots in other countries have stuck to their mask rules.

More long-term trends are likely to emerge this week from Arabian Travel Market, a key event for the industry under way in Dubai. ATM will see 112 countries aiming to push their tourism numbers up by wooing the event's 20,000 expected visitors.

Danielle Curtis, Middle East exhibition director for the ATM, said: “Arabian Travel Market 2022 will highlight the importance of the travel industry as we continue to address the challenges of Covid-19, while also outlining how we drive the industry forward."

But even as things look rosier than they have since the beginning of the pandemic, business travel remains disrupted. People may be going on vacation as they were in 2019, but with many industries having realised the feasibility and effectiveness of video-calls over the cost of footing the bill to fly executives to meetings, there is still a shortfall in frequent flyer numbers that airlines would like to make up.

Nor is that the only challenge facing airlines. The rising price of fuel affects the travel industry in a sizeable way and adds to costs. There is also the pressing challenge to transition to cleaner fuel. Last September, the aviation industry saw a united push towards helping the world inch closer to carbon neutrality by 2050, when about 60 aviation companies said they would increase the share of sustainable aviation fuels in the industry to 10 per cent by 2030. Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways slashed carbon emissions by 56 per cent between 2018 and 2021. With the environment on everyone's mind, it is a priority for several carriers to set up sustainable business models and, commendably, several have already made a push towards using cleaner fuels. Last week, Airbus flew the first A380 flight on 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel.

There is plenty of buzz over such measures, but it remains to be seen how much will be achieved in the long term. Customers' enthusiasm for travel after the pandemic will help get the industry back on its feet. Success for the long haul, however, will be about more than filling seats.

Published: May 10, 2022, 2:00 AM