Covid-19 impact: How has the pandemic reset travel for months to come?
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Covid-19 impact: How has the pandemic reset travel for months to come?

Covid-19 impact: How has the pandemic reset travel for months to come?

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered the course of the travel industry. What are travellers looking for?


The Covid-19 pandemic has arguably been the biggest disruptor to the aviation sector in recent times. In addition to the virus having infected over 60 million people and impacted billions worldwide, social lockdowns and border closures have proven to be a cul-de-sac for the airline industry, one that was intrinsically built – and essentially thrives – on people’s mobility.

The numbers highlight the dire situation: Airlines are expected to lose $84.3bn in 2020, while revenues will fall 50 per cent to $419bn from $838bn in 2019, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates.

While airlines strive to introduce measures to rally flattened demand and restore passenger confidence, the travel experience and customer expectations may have likely changed forever.

Regional demand was significantly hammered as governments enforced containment measures to mitigate the virus.

While travel in recent months may have picked up pace, the outlook remains grim; the Middle East is expected to see 60 million travellers in 2020 compared to the 203 million in 2019, while a full return to 2019 levels is not expected until late 2024, IATA confirms.

Regionally as well, the pandemic appears to have completely modified passenger behaviour. In the UAE, more than 90 per cent of passengers will alter their flying habits even after the Covid-19 pandemic is over, a global airline survey by Inmarsat revealed.

The survey, that recorded the views of 9,500 respondents from 12 countries, including more than 500 UAE-based passengers, suggested that those surveyed in the Gulf nation are more concerned about having to quarantine than the risk of catching the virus itself, either on a plane or while abroad.

Respondents in the UAE also raised concerns over uncertain border closures while travelling, which may leave them unable to return to the country. Trust in airlines is also a key differentiator while choosing to travel, as over a quarter of those surveyed in the UAE said they would fly only with airlines they trust.

Meanwhile, 52 per cent confirmed that reputation now weighed more when opting for an airline than it did prior to the pandemic.

Nearly half of the respondents in the UAE have been on at least one flight since the onset of the pandemic – the third highest rate after India and the US – lending credence to the country’s traveller base, the survey revealed. Furthermore, UAE travellers remain eager to take to the skies in the imminent future, but would do so confidently if specific measures are adopted.

In an attempt to improve the travel experience for UAE passengers post the pandemic, the research identified certain actions for airlines. These include: elevated service and priority boarding, and digital solutions that minimise touchpoints and engagement.

Meanwhile, accelerated adoption of digital solutions and innovative technologies will provide a major boost for aviation players seeking to rebuild operations; almost 50 per cent of those surveyed in the UAE confirmed that inflight wi-fi is now more significant than it was prior to the pandemic, while 86 per cent of passengers in the country believe preordered contactless catering would boost confidence when flying.

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