October 3, 2022 China
The Asia Pacific spent most of the last decade as the world’s largest region for air travel.
From 2012 to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic to/from or within the region accounted for better than a third of all passenger journeys globally.
However, with the Asia Pacific recovery lagging, thanks to closed borders, heterogeneous pandemic responses, and caution around inbound tourism, the region is forecast to lose its number one spot in 2022.
Sluggish 2022 to end with regional traffic still down by 45%
ACI Asia-Pacific’s latest traffic outlook projects that Asia Pacific regional airports will handle approximately 1.84 billion passengers in 2022, which is growth of 22% year-on-year.
This means that regional passengers will still be down by 45% when compared to levels before the pandemic. In 2019, 3.38 billion passengers passed through Asia Pacific airports – approximately 37% of global air travellers.
Globally, airport passenger numbers are forecast to reach 6.8 billion in 2022, which represents growth of 47% year-on-year. In most regions passenger numbers are expected to return to 70-80% of pre-COVID levels.
As a result, the Asia Pacific’s share of global traffic is projected to fall to 27% for 2022.
Europe – where traffic volumes have recovered to approximately 85% of pre-pandemic levels, even with the downturn in Russia – is projected to end 2022 as the world’s largest travel region, whereas North America and the Asia Pacific are expected to end the year broadly even.
Major market closures and slow border reopening takes toll on regional connectivity
According to ACI Asia-Pacific, the slow recovery has been caused by China’s ongoing border restrictions, and by Japan’s slowness in relaxing its inbound travel restrictions on tourists.
These are the region’s two largest travel markets, accounting for a little more than 52% of total regional capacity and 42% of regional international seats in 2019, so what happens there has an outsized impact on the rest of the region.
Before COVID-19 China was the world’s largest outbound travel market, with an estimated 155 million outbound travellers – better than half of them being air passengers. According to the Chinese Tourism Academy, nearly 90% of Chinese outbound travellers visited destinations in the Asia Pacific before the start of the pandemic.
However, the country’s ‘zero COVID’ approach has largely kept it closed off to international travel. China maintained scheduled air travel with 54 countries for the breadth of the pandemic, but capacity was kept to a minimum.
A combination of travel restrictions, quarantines, visa changes and ‘circuit breaker’ measures – which forced airlines with COVID-19-positive passengers to temporarily halt operations – has kept international capacity to/from China at under 10% of typical volumes.