European tourism to demonstrate resilience throughout 2022

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European tourism will remain resilient amidst risks on multiple fronts, according to the European Travel Commission’s (ETC) most recent edition of its quarterly report European Tourism Trends & Prospects. The report monitors the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as current economic and geopolitical headwinds and anticipates that European tourism will continue recovering in 2022, albeit at a slower pace than previously hoped.

While international tourist arrivals to Europe are forecast to be 30% below 2019 volumes in 2022 and this sector is not expected to exceed 2019 levels until 2025, domestic travel is projected to fully recover this year.

Despite remaining in negative territory, year-to-date data for Q1, 2022 showed that across all reporting destinations, arrivals are estimated to be 43% lower on a weighted basis relative to 2019 – an improvement over the 60% decline observed in the previous quarter. The fastest rebounds based on data to February were reported by Serbia (-11%) and Turkey (-12%). Other destinations recovering at a faster pace based on data to February-March 2022 are Bulgaria (-18%), Austria (-33%), Spain and Monaco (both -34%) and Croatia (-37%).

Luis Araujo, ETC’s President said: “Over the course of the pandemic, the European tourism sector has become adept at dealing with uncertainties and challenges. The sector is steadily recovering from COVID-19 and there is cause of optimism. Nevertheless, European tourism will have to maintain this fortitude throughout the year as Europe continues to deal with the significant fallout from the ongoing Russo-Ukraine conflict. ETC calls on EU institutions to continue to provide sufficient and timely financial aid and other support to the sector, especially to destinations heavily reliant on tourism from Russia and Ukraine.”

The report also shows that COVID-19 is ebbing as the primary factor influencing consumer travel plans. Helped by the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, as well as destinations’ health protocols and certifications, international travellers are now less hesitant about visiting Europe. Many countries, such as Spain, France, and Italy, have removed the requirement for COVID testing prior to travel, conditional on vaccination status. As a result of these actions, Western Europe is forecast to be the best performing region globally this year, albeit 24% below 2019 levels.

The US remains among the best performers of all long-haul source markets with transatlantic travel between the US and Europe this year one of the key drivers of the European travel sector’s recovery.

In contrast, there have been no immediate signs of Chinese tourist arrivals returning to pre-pandemic levels. China, the world’s largest spender, is currently enduring a severe outbreak of the Omicron variant in Shanghai and other big cities, prompting authorities to reimpose strict lockdowns and mandatory testing to suppress the spread of the virus. More than 50% of reporting destinations saw declines of more than 90% in Chinese tourist arrivals compared to 2019.

The report also underlines that the Russo-Ukrainian conflict will result in reduce outbound travel from both source markets. In the short-term, neighbouring countries and those most reliant on Russia and Ukraine as source markets will be worst affected in terms of tourism performance. Eastern Europe’s recovery has been pushed back to 2025 due to the conflict, with arrivals now forecast to be 43% lower in 2022 compared to 2019.

The impact of the war could mostly hurt destinations such as Cyprus, Montenegro, Latvia, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania, where Russians made up at least 10% of total inbound travel in 2019. Beyond the visitor impact, Russian tourists tend to be high spenders meaning that an even greater impact will be felt in terms of tourism expenditure in these destinations.

Besides the direct effects of reduced travel from both Russia and Ukraine, the conflict has created other problems for the European travel sector, including inflationary effect of economic sanctions on Russia. These will continue to exacerbate rising jet fuel prices and could cause airfare price hikes this year. Other rising costs such as food and energy could also erode consumer demand for travel. In addition, a recent survey by MMGY Travel Intelligence indicates that 62% of US travellers planning to visit Europe stated concerns about Russia’s war on Ukraine spreading to other countries as a factor impacting their travel plans.

Air traffic expected to recover to 84% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022

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The year ahead looks set to be a bumper year for aviation with the latest EUROCONTROL Traffic Scenarios for the period April to December 2022 predicting steady growth with figures reaching 89% of 2019 traffic by August, gently rising to end the year at 92%.

This sustained recovery will translate into around 9.3 million flights operated throughout Europe for the full year 2022. That represents 84% of 2019 traffic, when the network saw a record of 11. 1 million flights and is a welcome increase on the 6.2 million flights recorded last year.

Commenting on the forecasted growth Eamonn Brennan, Director General, EUROCONTROL said: “Aviation has continued to recover well over the last few weeks, and there has been a steady climb from 68% in January rising to 79% by the start of April compared to 2019 levels, even factoring in the impact on the network and on fuel prices of the unprovoked aggression by Russia against Ukraine. Airlines are adding lots of capacity, and some airlines are already outperforming their pre-pandemic levels. People are showing that they are really keen to fly – many for the first time since before the pandemic began. Hitting 90% or more of 2019 traffic at peak summer moments is firmly on the cards, and we expect holiday destinations and some other parts of the network to exceed 100% of their 2019 levels

“Clearly, however, there are still some downside risks related to continued geopolitical tensions that could further impact fuel prices and economic conditions, as well as the possibility of new COVID variants. We’re also seeing staff shortages in parts of the industry, particularly at airports in key roles such as airport screeners or ground handlers, and this needs to be carefully managed. Should any of these factors come into play, traffic could slide towards the levels envisaged in our Low Scenario.”

EUROCONTROL’s Base Scenario foresees traffic returning to around 90% of 2019 levels by summer 2022 and remaining steady until the end of the year, with most intra-European flows back to normal or even exceeding pre-pandemic levels, and long-haul flows progressively returning.

The Low Scenario envisages a slower recovery by the summer to a maximum of 83% of 2019 levels, with some risks materialising to create a post-summer dip, and only a partial recovery by year-end.

The High Scenario assumes a rapid acceleration to 95% of 2019 levels over the summer, with most global travel flows resuming, no further adverse impacts post-summer, and traffic rising at year-end to head towards pre-pandemic levels.

The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports

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For self-service and automation technology, the pandemic has in many cases been a catalyst rather than a deterrent. In the March issue of Regional Gateway, we hear from Valour Consultancy how estimated revenues associated with self-bag drop, kiosks and eGates held firm in the face of the pandemic.

The challenge now is to convince cash-strapped airports to continue to invest as passenger volumes and demand recover. The stats are persuasive: self-service and automated touchpoints are forecast to account for 26% of revenues associated with the seamless passenger journey between 2020 and 2030.

For more information, take a look at the below snippets from Valour Consultancy’s infographic detailing key findings from its recent market intelligence report The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports:

To subscribe for free to Regional Gateway magazine, visit www.regionalgateway.net/subscribe

To access the full infographic, visit the Valour Consultancy website.

Dismay at rhetoric around “ghost flights” as airports trade body reiterates support for slot thresholds

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Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has expressed dismay at the escalating industry and political rhetoric around so-called “ghost flights” and reiterated its strong support for the European Commission’s position on the thresholds for use of airport slots by airlines.

The usage threshold for the current season, Winter 21, is set at 50%. This is, as the European Commission has reiterated, a significantly lower threshold than that set under the 80/20 “use it or lose it” principle applicable in normal times. It is designed to reflect the uncertainties of a badly hit market and fragile recovery for aviation.

Crucially, and as a direct result of the ongoing uncertainties posed by the pandemic, there is also in place a specific provision for what the Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines calls “justified non-use of slots” (JNUS).

JNUS effectively allows airlines to use their allocated airport slots for less than 50% of the time. It is specifically designed to address the COVID pandemic and covers not only outright travel bans but also restrictions of movement, quarantine or isolation measures that impact the viability or possibility of travel or the demand for travel on specific routes.

It is therefore the case that, with a significantly reduced slot usage threshold and a specific provision for changing circumstances such as that presented by the Omicron variant, airlines are very well protected from the current uncertainties.

As a result, it is unclear why the issue of “ghost flights” is now under discussion. Ghost flights are defined as those voluntarily operated by airlines exclusively for the purpose of retaining historic rights to their slots. Accordingly, ghost flights are not offered for sale, carry no passengers and generate no revenue for airlines. Conversely, flights offered for sale, carrying passengers and generating revenue for airlines cannot be considered as ghost flights.

Low load factors have been a reality throughout the pandemic, but the retention of vital air connectivity for both economic and societal imperatives is well documented.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, said: “A few airlines are claiming they are forced to run high volumes of empty flights in order to retain airport slot usage rights. There is absolutely no reason why this should be the reality. As was clearly stated by the European Commission, slot usage rules need to achieve two things in the current circumstances. Firstly, to protect airlines from the worst of unpredictabilities which are out of all our hands. Secondly, and crucially, to also ensure that airport capacity is still used in a pro-competitive way.

“The pandemic has hit us all hard. Balancing commercial viability alongside the need to retain essential connectivity and protect against anti-competitive consequences is a delicate task. We believe that the European Commission has got this right. Talk of ghost flights and of their environmental impacts seems to hint at a doomsday scenario which has no place in reality. Let’s stick to the vital task of recovering and rebuilding together.”

Increased airport slot usage rule welcomed by European airports

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Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has welcomed the decision by the European Commission to set a 64% minimum airport slot usage threshold for the summer 2022 season.

“Moving to a 64% usage rule for next summer is an essential and fully justified step in progressively restoring normal slot usage rules, which should be fully reinstated for winter 2022,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe.

As of next summer, airlines operating out of congested EU airports will be required to use their allocated slots for at least 64% of the time to keep them, up from the 50% threshold currently applied. While this is still a way off the normal 80% usage rules, the continued application of ‘force majeure’ provisions will in any case provide airlines with full flexibility and protection from the usage requirement in case of disruptive new travel restrictions.

Jankovec added that the Commission’s decision reflects the new reality of the aviation market where some airlines have downsized structurally while others are looking at expanding. “There is no doubt this will facilitate the continued restoration of air connectivity and at the same time allow for a more effective use of airport capacity,” he said.

The progressive increase in the minimum slot usage threshold is backed by data from both Eurocontrol and airports throughout Europe, which points towards a good level of recovery in the summer season. This would see traffic reaching a substantial percentage of 2019 levels on average, and at some airports and in some peak periods actually equalling or surpassing 2019 traffic.

Following the busy summer season and the resulting need for airports to make appropriate operational plans, airports urge airlines to return slots which are not being used as early as possible. This will provide airports with visibility of planned use of their capacity, which is vital in this period of ramping-up of operations.

AOA labels pre-departure tests “devastating blow” for aviation

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Following the introduction of pre-departure tests for travellers entering the UK, which were introduced on Tuesday 7 December, Karen Dee, the Airport Operator Association (AOA) Chief Executive, has spoken out labelling the new regulations are a devastating blow for aviation.

“This is a devastating blow for aviation and tourism. Pre-departure tests acts as a major deterrent to travel and most of the limited remaining demand following the reintroduction of self-isolation will now fall away, just as airports were hoping for a small uplift over the Christmas holiday.

“Travel and aviation are the only sectors hit with any operating restrictions in response to the omicron variant. The UK and devolved governments should have done the right thing and, alongside the restrictions, announced support for our businesses and our staff to get through another period of shutdown.

“Hundreds of thousands of jobs rely on air travel – Government must recognise this and provide the support needed to safeguard this critical infrastructure upon which our economic recovery from the pandemic depends.”

Aviation start-ups demo their airport projects for Aena Ventures

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Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport staged a Demo Day at the end of last month for five start-ups to showcase the viability of their customer experience solutions in an airport environment. A total of 254 projects were entered into the challenge with applicants applying from 33 different countries around the world.

Prior to demonstrating their ideas the start-ups were guided by mentors from the Spanish airport operator, Aena, throughout a six-month process, to shape their ideas based on five areas specified in the programme: passenger communication, airport sustainability, passenger experience, baggage handling and travel to the airport.

The winning projects will be eligible to apply for a contract with Aena worth up up to €2 million to implement the entire project throughout Aena’s facilities.

The five start-ups included:

Airbot, which launched a conversation app that offers answers to questions from passengers. The multilingual agent can communicate in Spanish, Catalan and English and would be added to the Aena website and app.

Meanwhile, Carwatt carried out a project involving decarbonisation in airport mobility by converting diesel combustion vehicles to fully electric vehicles, using reusable batteries and components.

Chinespain launched “Hi China!”, an app for Chinese passengers with all the information of interest in their language on the airports of Barcelona and Madrid; online booking and payment through their platforms (Webchat and Alipay).

Dubz presented its Baggage as a whole project. The innovative service collects baggage from anywhere in the city of Barcelona as specified by the passenger and checks it. All the passenger has to do is claim it at the destination airport.

Finally, the company Meep developed ‘Aena Mobility’ – the first Mobility as a Service (MaaS) that connects a city’s mobility, by integrating different means of transport on a single platform, with the indoor guide at Barcelona-El Prat Airport, as well as with updated flight information.

Luis Felipe de Oliveira

Airport body calls on governments to implement pragmatic approach to Omicron

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Luis Felipe de Oliveira

In response to flight and travel restrictions by certain countries to/ from destinations where the Omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected, ACI World Director General, Luis Felipe de Oliveira has called upon governments to coordinate and implement pragmatic and risk-based measures based on science.

“We continue to urge countries to work closely with aviation stakeholders – including airports and airlines – prior to and during the implementation of travel measures to facilitate a more efficient application,” he said.

“This situation is another reminder of the urgent need for countries to adopt interoperable digital health credentials for testing and vaccination that are mutually recognised across borders. This will allow countries to better manage their travel measures and adapt to the evolving health situation.”

Underlining that full travel bans and border closures are not a viable solution as variants continue to emerge, Oliveira underlined that, “The entire aviation ecosystem needs to work together with governments to ensure a safe resumption of travel – one that can be sustained to enable the rebuilding of livelihoods, countries and economies.

Oliveira’s European counterpart – the Director General of ACI Europe – Olivier Jankovec added that with Europe’s airports at the front line of a country’s travel policy, they have seen first-hand the dramatic and disproportionate impact of travel bans and other extreme travel restrictions, which have little effect upon the epidemiological situation. Lending its support to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) call for a calm and measured response to the Omicron variant, ACI has welcomed the WHO’s unequivocal guidance to countries not to knee-jerk into travel bans.

“We know beyond any doubt from the experience gained over these past 20 months that blanket travel bans and quarantines are not effective in preventing the spread of new variants,” said Jankovec. “While they have no impact on the epidemiological situation, they do have dramatic consequences upon livelihoods. We urge all countries to follow the WHO advice and make sure they follow evidence-informed and risk-based approaches when reviewing their travel regimes, as part of precautionary measures in relation to the Omicron variant. In particular, targeted pre-departure testing should be preferred over travel bans and quarantines. Effective coordination and alignment at EU level involving all EEA countries, Switzerland and also the UK is a must.”

Underscoring the need to ensure that vaccines are made more widely available across the globe, Jankovec also urged the EU and other European countries to do more to ensure COVAX gets vaccines swiftly to low income countries. “This could also potentially require the EU to align with the US with a view to wave patents and other intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Securing wider and fairer access to vaccination and therapeutics across the world is an absolute prerequisite to effectively mitigate the risk of other variants of concern emerging,” he concluded.

New data points to industry-wide shift towards digitalisation of the passenger experience

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Digital vouchering platform, iCoupon, has revealed new data which points to a shift towards the digitalisation of the passenger experience and airport ecosystem.

The iCoupon voucher platform, which enables adoptees to issue digital vouchers directly to passenger boarding passes, has experienced significant growth since the start of the pandemic. In addition to expanding its network to cover a further 30 airports worldwide, iCoupon has also won 10 new travel retail contracts and been implemented by seven major airlines over the last 18 months.

With flight schedules impacted by the ongoing disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, vouchering has become an essential tool for ensuring passengers receive compensation in line with regulations, such as EU261, and that eligible staff and passengers receive meal entitlements.

“It goes without saying that airports and airlines have had to radically rethink the way they operate their businesses and how they serve their customers,” said Richard Bye, CEO and Chairman of iCoupon.

“The last year-and-a-half has really highlighted the importance of using digital tools within the travel sector to offer a more streamlined, contact-free and convenient service. Many factors have influenced this sift to digitalisation: passenger needs have evolved due to the effects of the pandemic; consumers are demanding tangible sustainability measures; and digital, automated services are now expected as standard. Our rapid growth is symptomatic of the scale and pace of digitalisation within the industry and highlights the wide-reaching benefits of offering an improved passenger experience via digital channels,” Bye continued.

UK airports halve emissions in line with commitment to sustainable growth

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To coincide with its annual conference held on Tuesday 19 October, the Airport Operators Association (AOA) has launched its Decarbonisation Report, which reveals that greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by up to 50.6% since 2010, while passenger numbers increased 41.7% over the same period (2010-2019).

The 18 airports that represented more than 95% of passengers emitted 514,331 tonnes of CO2e in 2010 from sources they controlled (known as scope 1 & 2 emissions), while welcoming 201.7m passengers through their doors.

In 2019, those same airports accounted for 249,824 tonnes of CO2e, 50.6% less than in 2010, while seeing 285.8m passengers travelling, an increase of 41.7%. This is based on the energy used at those airports (known as location-based emissions). If the renewable energy purchased by those airports i included (known as market-based emissions), then overall emissions fell by around 80%.

“Thanks to significant efforts, airports have achieved a major reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions they control since 2010 and this is testament to their commitment to sustainable aviation growth,” said Karen Dee, AOA’s Chief Executive.

She added: “Despite this record achievement, more needs to be done to reach net zero. Our Decarbonisation Report shows that airports that take responsibility seriously and are setting out pathways to further emission reductions.

“Emissions from airports is, of course, not the whole picture. Aircraft emissions account for the majority of the aviation sector’s greenhouse gases. here, too, airports are stepping up the plate.”

AOA’s Decarbonisation Roadmap outlines the measures airports are taking to work with airlines and other stakeholders including ground handlers to reduce emissions as well as to reduce their own energy use and invest in sustainable energy and heat generation, including solar farms on airport land.

Other actions airports are taking include: investing in zero-emission vehicles; improving the energy efficiency of equipment and buildings; scoping options to invest in using or generating renewable heat at airports; upgrading airspace to make the most of the capabilities of modern aircraft and reduce noise impacts and emissions; encouraging staff and passengers to use sustainable transport to the airport, including working with local, devolved and UK governments to invest in sustainable surface access; and working with airlines, universities and aerospace manufacturers to develop zero-emission aircraft and the necessary infrastructure for electric or hydrogen aircraft propulsion.

“As we come out of the pandemic, now is the time to consider how we build back better to achieve that net-zero future. At the AOA Annual Conference today, airport CEOs, Chairman of the Commitee on Climate Change Lord Deben, Ministers, Parliamentarians and investors will discuss what we need to do individually and together on this vital journey to a sustainable future,” concluded Dee.