Flight bookings for leisure and business travel at the highest levels of 2019

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, global leisure and business flights have risen to levels not seen since 2019.

That’s according to the Mastercard Economics Institute’s third annual travel report, entitled “Travel 2022: Trends & Transitions,” released yesterday.

After analyzing 37 global markets, the report found that cross-border travel reached pre-pandemic levels in March, a significant milestone for a travel industry dominated by domestic travel since 2020.

The flights are back

According to the report, global flight bookings for leisure travel increased 25% from pre-pandemic levels in April. This was driven by the number of short- and medium-haul flights, which were higher in April than in the same period in 2019, according to the report.

Long-haul pleasure flights were no exception. After starting the year at -75% pre-pandemic levels, an “unprecedented surge” in international flight bookings has brought these “barely timid” flights back to 2019 levels in less than three months, according to the report.

Like airlines, global spending on passenger cruises, buses and railways increased significantly earlier this year, with touring car rentals in March surpassing 2019 levels, according to Mastercard’s 2022 Travel Report. Economics Institute.

3Alexd | E + | Getty Images

Corporate flyers, which have followed leisure passengers throughout the entire pandemic, are also returning to the skies.

In late March, business flight bookings surpassed 2019 levels for the first time since the start of the pandemic, according to the report, marking a key milestone for airlines that rely on corporate frequent flyer passengers.

The return of business travel has been swift, as business flight bookings were only about half their pre-pandemic levels earlier this year, according to the report.

A delay in Asia

The global upward trajectory comes despite a slow return to air travel in Asia. Flights to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia increased among Asia Pacific travelers this year, although most of the major international travel destinations were outside the region.

“Of the top destinations visited by Asia Pacific travelers in the first quarter of 2022, 50 percent were out of the region according to our data, with the United States number one,” said David Mann, chief economist for the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at the Mastercard Economics Institute.

“Despite a delayed recovery from the West,” Mann said, “travelers to Asia Pacific have shown a strong desire to return to travel where liberalizations have occurred.”

If flight bookings continue at their current pace, it is estimated that 1.5 billion more passengers will fly worldwide this year than in 2021, according to the Mastercard Economics Institute, with more than a third of those coming from Europe.

Will this continue?

According to the report, strong demand for air travel and a resurgence in hiring trends globally are just some of the reasons why the global travel industry has “more reason to be optimistic than pessimistic.”

People have paid off debt at “a record pace” over the past two years, while wealthier consumers – who are “more likely to travel for pleasure” – have benefited from pandemic-related savings and rising asset prices. according to the report.

However, rising inflation, market instability, geopolitical woes in Europe and Asia, and rising Covid-19 rates threaten to derail a solid travel recovery in 2022.

Incomes are expected to grow in response to inflation, but this will happen more rapidly in developing economies, according to the report.

“While we expect income growth to outstrip consumer price growth in Germany and the US by mid-2023, that probably won’t happen until 2024 and 2025 in Mexico and South Africa, respectively,” the report said.

Among the numerous risks that could derail the resumption of travel … we would put Covid as the biggest swing factor.

David Mann

chief economist, Mastercard Economics Institute

Air fares have also risen, with average ticket prices rising about 18% from January to April this year, according to the report.

The cost of air travel has risen considerably by region, with fares rising 27% in Singapore from April 2019 to April 2022. However, the report says that US flight prices have remained broadly unchanged over the same period. time.

Although many countries have reopened to international travelers, the pandemic still looms over the industry.

“Among the many risks that could derail the resumption of travel … we would put Covid as the biggest swing factor,” Mann said.

“Although treatments are better and many markets have seen successful vaccine launches, a severe or contagious variant requiring border closure could lead to a return to the non-linear recovery and stop-start patterns of the past two years,” he said. affirmed.

A cheers last summer?

Whether travel demand will remain solid throughout the year, or whether travelers will take a thumbs up last summer before tightening the purse strings, is yet to be seen.

The report found that traditionally people have spent less on travel as a result of rising energy and food costs.

“However, given the enormous levels of pent-up demand in a post-pandemic world, this time around may be different,” the report said.

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