Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, in his keynote address at the Changi Aviation Summit, said: “Asia-Pacific is playing catch-up on restarting travel after Covid-19, but there is growing momentum, with governments lifting many travel restrictions. The demand for people to travel is clear. As soon as measures are relaxed there is an immediate positive reaction from travellers. So, it is critical that all stakeholders, including governments are well-prepared for the restart. We cannot delay. Jobs are at stake and people want to travel.”
The Asia-Pacific region’s international passenger demand for March reached 17 per cent of pre-Covid levels, after having hovered at below 10 per cent for most of the last two years. “This is far below the global trend, where markets have recovered to 60 per cent of pre-crisis levels. The lag is because of government restrictions. The sooner they are lifted, the sooner we will see a recovery in the region’s travel and tourism sector, and all the economic benefits that will bring,” said Walsh.
Walsh urged Asia-Pacific governments to continue easing measures and bring normalcy to air travel by:
• Removing all restrictions for vaccinated travellers
• Removing quarantine and Covid-19 testing for unvaccinated travellers where there are high levels of population immunity, which is the case in most parts of Asia
• Lift the mask mandate for air travel when it is no longer required in other indoor environments and public transport.
Walsh noted that there are two big gaps in the Asia-Pacific recovery story: China and Japan.
“So long as the Chinese government continues to maintain their zero-Covid approach, it is hard to see the country’s borders reopening. This will hold back the region’s full recovery. While Japan has taken steps to allow travel, there is no clear plan for the reopening of Japan for all inbound visitors or tourists. More needs to be done to further ease travel restrictions, starting with lifting quarantine for all vaccinated travellers, and removing both the on-arrival airport testing and daily arrival cap. I urge the government of Japan to take bolder steps towards recovery and opening of the country’s borders,” said Walsh.
As of March 1, Japan has reopened its borders to foreign residents, business travellers and foreign students, with plans to raise the current 10,000-person cap on overseas arrivals to 20,000 people from June. However, tourists are currently still unable to visit the country, and Japan lags behind other nations worldwide, many of which have now removed all remaining restrictions.
Walsh also called on Asia-Pacific governments to support the industry’s sustainability efforts. However, Walsh also acknowledged that there have been positive developments in Asia-Pacific. Japan has committed considerable funds for green aviation initiatives. New Zealand and Singapore have agreed to cooperate on green flights. “Singapore’s cross industry International Advisory Panel on a sustainable aviation air hub is a positive example for other states to adopt,” said Walsh.