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.

Masks are a thing of the past for Europe’s airports

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The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have updated their Aviation Health Safety Protocol to advise that wear mask wearing is no longer mandatory on public transport, this also needs to be the case at airports and on-board aircraft.

The Aviation Health Safety Protocol, advises European States and industry on the progressive de-escalation of protective measures aimed at limiting the risk of COVID-19 infection during air travel. Reflecting the evolution of the epidemiological situation and risks  as well as the latest scientific evidence, the updated guidance also removes the requirement to ensure physical distancing within terminals and other airport areas. In addition, it removes access restrictions to airport terminals, therefore allowing passengers and all other visitors to enter and use the range of services there.

Where health checks and testing requirements remain in place, the guidance advises that States should implement ‘One Stop’ arrangements to avoid duplication between departure, transit and arrival processes.

Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s Director General, Olivier Jankovec, welcomed the updated guidance saying: “Over the past two years, the EASA-ECDC Aviation Health Safety Protocol has been essential to ensure risk-based and uniform COVID-19 protective measures for air travel across Europe. This remains the case with today’s update, with guidelines that continue to be effective, proportionate, and practical – and which reflect the fact that an increasing number of States no longer mandate wearing face masks nor social distancing for travel.”

He also noted that with the summer season set to be a busy one, the new guidance marks another step in the safe recovery of European aviation and it will make the travel experience much more pleasant, while keeping passengers and staff safe.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) Director General, Willie Walsh commented that “Travellers can look forward to freedom of choice on whether to wear a mask. And they can travel with confidence knowing that many features of the aircraft cabin, such as high frequency air exchange and high efficiency filters, make it one of the safest indoor environments.”

Ground handlers and airports unite to address complex operational challenges

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The Airport Services Association (ASA) and Airports Council International (ACI) Europe have issued a joint statement addressing the complex operational issues faced by ground handlers and airports alike as we enter what the industry is forecasting will be a busy summer travel season.

While ASA’s Managing Director, Fabio Gamba, and ACI Europe’s Director General, Olivier Jankovec, welcome the return of air travel after the devastating impact of COVID-19 on their respective industries, they agreed that the recovery of passenger traffic has accelerated sharply and suddenly. “While still remaining below pre-pandemic (2019) levels, passenger traffic has also become much more concentrated over peak periods,” their statement read. “In fact, at many airports traffic peaks are at, or higher than, pre-pandemic levels.

Coping with this sudden increase in air traffic has proved challenging for airports and their operational partners, in particular ground handlers. It has resulted in an increase in flight delays and cancellations, as well as a degraded passenger experience at many airports, as key processes including check-in, security screening and baggage delivery involve longer waiting times.

The main underlying reason for these disruptions has been the difficulty to scale up staffing to the levels required to accommodate the surge in passenger traffic.

Outlining the reasons for the staff crunch, the two organisations said the cause is: Airports and ground handlers have been forced to lay off staff due to the collapse in air traffic in 2020 and 2021. “The fact that airports and ground handlers received far less financial aid than airlines and that such aid came rather late was a significant contributing factor to their weakened operational capabilities.”

The extremely tight labour market across Europe was another contributing factor. “The fact that security and ground handling jobs have for many years stood at the lower end of the pay scales and also involve working in shifts seven days a week is a clear handicap in attracting people in the current inflationary environment.”

In the case of ground handling in particular, years of liberalisation triggered by the EU Ground Handling Directive, have resulted in a downward spiral that has now become both socially and operationally unsustainable. If low wages and compromised service quality were already a concern pre-pandemic, they are now coming to the fore.

Finally the training and security clearance requirements have also made it impossible to quickly adapt and deploy additional staff. It can take up to 16 weeks between staff recruitment and deployment.

While both associations that in the short-term there is no quick and easy fix to the staffing issues, they highlighted that disruptions could be reduced by: Faster security clearance from competent authorities for airport and ground handling staff; Airlines adapting their schedules to reduce traffic peaks and returning unused slots as early as possible; Effective and even closer dialogue and cooperation between all partners involved.

“In the medium-term, EU rules on ground handling need to be reconsidered with a renewed focus on resilience. It is crucial that no further liberalisation of ground handling is pursued without a robust legal package aimed at guaranteeing a minimum quality of service and the promotion and recognition of the ground handling workers’ skills through, for instance the creation of widely recognised training passports. Also, the ability to set an upper limit on the number of ground handling suppliers based on the size of the market (or airport) would go a long way in addressing both social and operational shortcomings,” the statement concluded.

United Airlines inaugurates Milan-Chicago link

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United Airlines inaugurated its direct flight from Milan Malpensa Airport in Italy to Chicago O’Hare Airport in the US on Saturday 7 May.

Milan Malpensa and Milan Linate, which are both operated by SEA, have noted strong traffic recovery this summer with European and North African destinations. However, for its long-haul network North America will be the main driver of recovery with 66 flight per week.

“Carriers are showing important signs of confidence in us by not only returning to offer the historic connections at our airports, but also investing in new destinations. With its daily fight to Chicago, United Airlines is now the emblem of this,” said Andrea Tucci, VP Aviation Business Development at SEA.

“This new destination represents one of the most important novelties of the summer season,” she continued. “This new route operated by United alongside the daily flight to New York (EWR), opens the door to the United States through the carrier’s Chicago O’Hare network and adds quality to the travel offering from our airports, particularly to the Pacific Coast. We are extremely pleased to be here today to celebrate the launch of this connection to one of the most attractive locations in the US.”

Liverpool welcomes Frankfurt link for first time in 10 years

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Lufthansa’s has introduced a new service from Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) in the UK to Frankfurt Airport in Germany.

Lufthansa flight LH968 touched down at LJLA shortly after 8am on Wednesday 4 May, where is was welcomed with a water arch performed by the airport’s Rescue and Firefighting team. A ribbon cutting ceremony was also conducted at the aircraft steps ahead of its departure to Frankfurt.

Marking the return of global connectivity for the Airport and the City region for the first time in more than 10 years, the service marks an important addition to the airport’s list of destinations, with passengers now able to check-in at Liverpol and easily connect with Lufthansa’s global network and its Star Alliance partners via the German carrier’s main hub in Frankfurt. It has been welcomed by members of the region’s business communities, as well as leisure travellers, many of whom have worked closely with the airport to help attract Lufthansa to Liverpool.

“We are delighted to see this important and strategic new route come to fruition, with Lufthansa welcomed here today by representatives of the business community and visitor economy from across the Liverpool City Region, Cheshire and North Wales,” said LJLA’s CEO, John Irving.

Lufthansa’s Heinrich Lange added, “The new connection to the heart of Europe has found its first travellers from Liverpool as we can already see good booking figures.

“We want to convince our customers from North-Western England and Wales about an easy transfer at our Frankfurt hub. Every passenger stays in the same terminal building for their connecting flight. We offer quality and service as a Five-Star-Carrier in the air and on the ground. And we are pleased that Liverpudlians can now start their journey with us from even closer to their home or office. This city known for music, football and trade will also benefit from the global access we provide as the only network airline at John Lennon Airport.”

Riyadh Airports Company sees strong passenger rebound at King Khalid

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Riyadh Airports Company (RAC), which operates King Khalid Airport in Riyadh has seen passenger traffic soar at the Saudi Arabia gateway with passenger numbers rebounding to pre-COVID-19 levels and commercial revenues in March topping those recorded in the same month in 2019.

March this year was the most successful month of duty-free sales ever recorded at the air transport hub with duty-free sales showing a growth rate of 62% compared to March 2019 (and a growth of 243% compared to March 2021). Other areas that also performed strongly were food and beverage (F&B), which was up 12%, retail and services up 14% and car parking up by 29% in March 2022 compared to March 2019.

CEO of RAC, Egn. Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Maghlouth highlighted that these figures illustrate the underlying growth in the region’s aviation sector.  He was joined by Ayman Aboabah, VP Operations who said: “The strength of passenger recovery in March is an excellent result, delivered as a product of our collective and coordinated efforts. We look forward to continuing to work closely with our stakeholders and partners, and build further on the excellent recovery as the year progresses.”

With the regional travel market showing strong signs of rebounding, RAC’s Acting VP Commercial also expressed his optimism for the future saying: “We are confident these results are just the tip of the iceberg, and that we will see new records throughout the year.”

airBaltic launches Tampere hub with seven new routes

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Latvian low-fare carrier airBaltic has opened its Tampere base in Finland – the airline’s first base outside the Baltic states.

Speaking at the opening of the new base, airBaltic CEO, Martin Gauss, said: “The opening of the new base provides new travel opportunities for both our current and future passengers. We hope that the passenger demand will gradually grow, therefore we may launch additional new destinations to various business hubs and leisure destinations over time.”

Initially the airline will serve seven direct routes in addition to continued operations to Riga in Latvia. The new links being served from Tampere include: Oslo, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Munich, Malaga, Rhodes and Amsterdam. The latter will commence in June, while all other links are being served from May.

Mari Nurminen, VP for Central and Eastern Finland Airports and Tampere-Pirkkala Airport Manager at Finavia commented: “We are delighted to celebrate airBaltic’s new base at Tampere-Pirkkala Airport. This launch marks a great milestone in the long cooperation between Finavia and airBaltic. Seven new routes bring a great variety of European cities close to both leisure and business travellers of Tampere, which we can all be very happy about.”

Toulouse welcomes return of Air Transat link to Montreal

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Air Transat has resumed its service between Toulouse in France and Montreal in Canada. The direct flights are being operated four times a week on an Airbus A231 aircraft.

Describing the bond between France and Canada as “precious”, Cyril Cousin, Director of Air Transat France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, said: “It is a real pleasure for us to restore our direct flights from Toulouse, a route that has been integral to our programme for more than 30 years and which we now operate exclusively. We know that travellers whether on vacation or reuniting with loved ones, particularly appreciate the ease of getting to their final destination non-stop.”

Meanwhile, Philippe Crebassa, Chairman of the Managemetn Board of Toulouse Blagnac Airport said: “This reopening was eagerly awaited and we are delighted to see Air Transat’s aircraft again. We welcome with open arms our Canadian friends to our region. This link will also allow those living in Toulouse to discover the beautiful province of Quebec, as well as enable travel for professionals, family members and friends living either side of the Atlantic to reunite.”

Passengers will be able to make the most of Air Transat’s Canadian network from Montreal thanks to the carriers domestic network in Canada.

Bali’s Denpasar Airport celebrates return of Emirates

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For the first time since the suspension of flights in 2020 due to the global pandemic, Emirates has returned to Denpasar International Airport in Bali. Flight EK398 was welcomed at the Indonesian gateway on 1 May by a spectacular water cannon salute.

Reflecting the island’s unique culture and rich heritage, the airline’s operating cabin crew and passengers were treated to a warm welcome with the traditional joged bumbung dance performance and a cake cutting ceremony.

The return of Emirates’ service to Bali, comes as a result of easing international travel restrictions and the ramping up of global operations.

To provide its passengers with the highest safety standards at every single stage of the journey, Emirates has implemented a comprehensive set of health and safety measures. Custoemrs travelling from Dubai can also take advantage of the contactless biometric path at Dubai International for a quicker journey at the airport with minimum to no human interaction.

Sky Harbor first in Phoenix to benefit from US federal funding

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Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is to benefit from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for its renovation project. The airport is the first City of Phoenix project to receive the federal funding.

The renovation project includes the construction of a long-awaited cross-field taxiway connecting the north and south airfields. Estimated to cost $260 million, the 2,000-foot taxiway will join the two airfields allowing for better aircraft flow and airfield operations. Design has begun on the project and federal environmental approvals are expected later this summer. Approximately $194 million is anticipated to come from monies set aside by the infrastructure package with the balance being met by Passenger Facility Charges and airport revenues.

Phoenix Mayor, Kate Gallego, commented: “This airfield project is another step in connecting Phoenix to the world. As one of the first projects for the city identified for delivery under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this new taxiway will reduce aircraft taxi time, improve utilisation of all runways, and add capacity for our airline partners. Infrastructure investments like this make our city even more attractive to the global aviation industry including travellers using Sky Harbor.”

Possible future projects to support the airport’s anticipated growth in passenger traffic could include a second north concourse at Terminal 3, a pedestrian bridge between Terminals 3 and 4, infrastructure improvements at Terminal 4, as well as upgrades to lighting, new solar installations, and the replacement of fleet vehicles with electric vehicles. Some $5 billion has been set aside in federal funding to be distributed in competitive grants for airport terminal projects, alongside other competitive grant opportunities for projects that promote sustainability.