Growth in international air travel, as measured by passenger journeys, grew by 4.5% in 2019, reports global tracking agency Forward Keys.
This rate is well ahead of global economic growth, but is significantly slower growth than last year’s growth of 6.0%. It is also slower than the trend over the last decade, which averages 6.8% per annum.
However, Forward Keys notes that the outlook for the coming three months is considerably more optimistic, with international flight bookings as of January 1, 2020 standing 8.3% ahead of where they were at the start of 2019.
External factors curtail growth
ForwardKeys’ VP Insights, Olivier Ponti, commented: “Usually, aviation grows around three percentage points ahead of global GDP. However, in the past year, we have seen several events which have held back growth; these include U.S. trade disputes with Canada, China, Mexico and the EU, riots in Chile, France, Hong Kong and India, the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, terrorism in Sri Lanka, the emergence of ‘flight shaming’ and the bankruptcy of Jet Airways.”
International traffic growth
Air travel grew in most parts of the world in 2019, with the notable exception of international departures from the Middle East, which were down by 2.4%.
The main cause of this was the bankruptcy of Jet Airways, which had the effect of cutting flight capacity between the Middle East and India.
Travel between Middle Eastern countries grew by 0.7% while travel to other parts of the world fell by 3.9%.
The stand-out region in terms of international aviation growth in 2019 was Asia Pacific, where international outbound travel grew by 7.7%, reflecting the strong economic growth of the region.
Travel between countries in the Asia Pacific region grew even more strongly, by 8.7%.
Europe did particularly well as a destination, registering 11.7% growth from the Asia Pacific market, boosted by new routes, following the successful EU-China tourism year.
African routes expand
International travel grew by 7.5% in Africa, ranking #2. Growth was driven in large part by increased capacity and routes by Ethiopian Airlines, including new flights to New York from Abidjan, Kenya Airways flights between Nairobi and New York, LATAM flights between Johannesburg and Sao Paulo and Royal Air Maroc between Casablanca and Boston and Miami.
International outbound travel from the Americas grew by 4.8%. Travel between countries in the region grew by 3.2%.
Most notable was growth in travel to other regions of the world, which was up 6.8%. This was helped by the continued strength of the dollar, new connections to many parts of the world and the recovery of Egypt and Turkey as destinations.
Outbound travel from Europe grew by 3.7%. Travel between European countries grew by 3.3% and travel to other continents grew by 5.5%.
Stronger bookings in 1Q
Looking to the future, the global picture is much more optimistic, and Africa is the stand-out market. As of January 1, international outbound bookings are ahead 12.5%, up 10.0% to other African countries and up 13.5% to the rest of the world.
Bookings to Africa from other continents are ahead by 12.9%.
The second most promising outbound market is Europe, with international forward bookings for the first quarter ahead by10.5%. Bookings between European countries are ahead 9.6% and bookings to other continents are ahead 11.8%.
Asia Pacific is in third place, with international bookings ahead by 8.3%. Between countries within the region bookings are ahead 7.7% and long-haul bookings are ahead 9.7%.
The continued strength of the dollar appears to be a driver of what’s happening in the Americas, where international flight bookings are 4.7% ahead. Bookings to other countries within the Americas are ahead by just 1.7% but ahead by 8.8% to other continents.
The travel outlook for the Middle East is starting to look up.
International first quarter, forward bookings are 2.2% ahead of where they were on January 1, 2019. Between countries within the region, bookings are ahead 6.8% but long-haul bookings are ahead by just 0.4%.
**Note: ForwardKeys’ data pre-dates the assassination by the USA of Qasem Soleimani, an event which could alter the outlook for travel, particularly if the political situation deteriorates further.
Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, concluded: “Travel in the first quarter of 2020 looks set to be buoyant, with long-haul travel showing notably stronger growth than intra-regional travel.
“This is encouraging news for the industry as the further people travel, the more they tend to spend.”