Although most of the Covid-19 related travel restrictions were lifted last year, the past summer has still witnessed tourists travelling with a vengeance. Last year’s travel chaos has continued into 2023, fuelled by strikes from air traffic control, pilots and train drivers. And although in May 2023, one third of European destinations had already surpassed 2019 tourist arrivals, a recent report from travel analytics firm ForwardKeys has shown that air travel recovery has been “patchy” over the summer.
Worldwide, during the summer aviation season, from 1 July to 31 August, flight bookings were 23% behind pre-pandemic (2019) levels and 31% ahead of last year.
In the ranking of the most visited country destinations by share of scheduled flight bookings, the USA was top of the list by a substantial margin, attracting 11% of all international visitors this summer. It was followed by Spain, the UK, Italy, Japan, France, Mexico, Germany, Canada and Türkiye.
The USA was even more dominant in outbound travel. In the ranking of source markets, the USA was top with an 18% share of scheduled flight bookings. It was followed by Germany, the UK, Canada, France, South Korea, China, Japan, Spain and Italy.
For most countries, travel was up on last year by a double-digit figure, but volumes have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. A closer look at the world’s traditionally largest outbound travel markets reveals the patchy nature of the recovery. The US, 17% up on last year, was just 1% down on 2019 volumes. However, other traditionally large source markets were much further off the pace, Germany, 21% down on pre-pandemic levels, the UK 20% down, France, 17% down, South Korea 28% down, China, 67% down Japan 53% down and Italy 24% down.
Also striking are the differences in travel volumes compared to last year, which reveal how much the Far East was still in lockdown but is now revving up, with all three Asian countries in the top ten source markets, namely South Korea, China and Japan, showing at least a triple-digit growth rate compared to 2022. While the Chinese outbound travel market has been amongst the slowest in the world to recover, it still manages to hit 7th place thanks to its sheer size.
Throughout the pandemic, leisure travel to beach destinations proved to be the most resilient, with many highly tourism dependent economies in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico working hard to keep their borders open and the tourists coming. The same has also been true of Greece, Portugal and the UAE.
Throughout the pandemic, US travellers were an economic lifeline for many Caribbean destinations.Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys
Looking at the destinations which have done best against 2019 levels, the list is dominated by countries famous for their beaches and warm waters. The top ten all exceeded the summer of 2019 and most showed strong growth from last year. Top of the list is Costa Rica, 19% up on 2019 and 15% up on 2022. It is followed by the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Greece, Tanzania, the Bahamas and Mexico.
While the unusually high temperatures and the outbreak of wildfires in Greece and Portugal made a very substantial impact on television screens; they made only a limited impact on tourism, as most travellers had already booked their holidays. A spate of cancellations affected Rhodes, but flight bookings recovered to normal levels in a matter of weeks. While bookings for Northern Europe and the Nordic region were 16% and 17% behind 2019, they demonstrated better performance in the late bookings market, probably influenced by the heatwave.
“Looking ahead to Q4 and further to 2024, I am increasingly optimistic”, said ForwardKeys’ VP of Insights Olivier Ponti. “Right now, global flight bookings for the last three months of the year are just 4% behind 2019 and for the first three months of 2024 are 3% ahead. The world region that shows the greatest promise in Q4 is the Middle East, to where flight bookings are 37% ahead of 2019. It is followed by Central America, 33% ahead and the Caribbean, 24% ahead.”