Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Travellers' confidence slips amid fears of catching virus, Iata says

About 45% of those polled in June said they expected to travel within two months, compared with 61% in April

A traveller walks past the check-in desks at London Gatwick Airport. Concerns about catching the virus continue to affect decisions on travelling. Bloomberg
A traveller walks past the check-in desks at London Gatwick Airport. Concerns about catching the virus continue to affect decisions on travelling. Bloomberg

Fewer people are willing to fly when the Covid-19 pandemic subsides than there were at the height of movement restrictions in April, according to an International Air Transport Association survey.

More than eight in 10 people said they were concerned about catching the virus while travelling, the poll conducted by consultancy Rockland Dutton Research on behalf of Iata showed. The survey said 45 per cent expected to travel within two months, compared to 61 per cent in April.

“People are basically saying, at least in this survey, that they are going to wait a little longer,” David Dutton, an analyst at the consultancy, said on Tuesday.

“I would venture that as this pandemic plays out, the longer it lasts, the more people are concerned about when they might return to travel because it may have nothing to do with travel as much as their own habits have changed.”

The survey of 4,700 leisure and business travellers in 11 countries, including the UAE, was conducted in February, April and June.

About two thirds of respondents said they expected to travel less for business or for leisure once the pandemic subsided, while 64 per cent said they would postpone travel until their personal finances and the broader economy improved.

However, people had not entirely lost their appetite to fly, with 57 per cent saying they were willing board a plane to see family and friends once the pandemic ends.

Another 56 per cent said they were willing to go on vacation while 55 per cent were willing take to the skies on business trips.

“You have a combination of ‘I don’t think I’ll travel as much’ but on the flip side ‘I’m going to travel soon’. One could almost conjecture that there is some pent-up demand there,” Mr Dutton said, pointing to the divergence in results.

People in France and Germany were more inclined to begin travelling once the pandemic ends while those in Singapore and Japan showed the least interest, Mr Dutton said.

Respondents were mainly concerned about being in crowded buses or trains, standing in check-in or border control queues and using airport toilets.

The biggest worries travellers had about flying were sitting next to someone with Covid-19, using aircraft toilets or breathing the air in the plane.

While 84 per cent said they feared catching the virus while travelling, they were also worried about being quarantined abroad or when they returned home.

Asked about the top three measures that would make them feel safer, 37 per cent cited Covid-19 screening at departure airports, while 34 per cent backed the mandatory wearing of face masks and 33 per cent mentioned social distancing measures on aircraft.

Respondents said they were willing to have their temperature checked and to wear face masks during the flight. They also said they preferred online check-ins to reduce the risk of having contact with others at airports.

Still, 17 per cent were unwilling to undergo a 14-day self-isolation period. Iata called for alternative measures to quarantines, which it called a "demand killer".

Asked about products or incentives that would encourage them to fly again, two in five respondents cited insurance to cover virus-related disruptions and a cheaper or easier process to obtain visas for foreign travel.

Typically, when airlines emerge from a recession, they offer low fares to stimulate demand but in the case of the pandemic, it is a matter of restoring passenger confidence, Brian Pearce, Iata’s chief economist, said.

Alexandre de Juniac, Iata’s director general, said he was disappointed by the concerns highlighted in the survey because the industry had introduced layers of protective safety measures.

“This crisis could have a very long shadow,” Mr de Juniac said. “Passengers are telling us that it will take time before they return to their old travel habits.”

Airlines said they did not expect travel demand to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 or 2024 as Covid-19 takes its toll on the world economy, consumer spending and passenger confidence.

Continued government financial relief measures will therefore be critical "for some time to come," Mr de Juniac said.

Updated: July 8, 2020 10:27 PM

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