‘Jobs are at stake’: Asia ‘catching up’ on post-COVID travel | Aviation

The head of the global airlines body said the region was falling behind the rest of the world as international travel restarts.

Asia-Pacific countries are “catching up” on resuming international travel and should ease pandemic-related border restrictions without delay, the head of the global airline industry’s representative body said on Tuesday.

Speaking at an aviation summit in Singapore, Willie Walsh, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the region had lagged behind the global trend despite “the ‘growing momentum’ towards lifting restrictions.

“The demand for people to travel is clear. As soon as the measures are relaxed, there is an immediate positive reaction from travelers,” Walsh said in a keynote address at the Changi Aviation Summit. “It is therefore essential that all stakeholders, including governments, are well prepared for the restart. We can’t delay. Jobs are at stake and people want to travel.

Walsh said air travel in the region during the first quarter of 2022 was only 17% of 2019 levels, compared to around 60% in Europe, North America and Latin America.

“Things are getting better, but they won’t get better fast enough unless countries follow the lead of countries like Singapore and remove testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers,” he said. Walsh, who was previously CEO of British Airways and Aer Lingus in Ireland. .

Willie Walsh
IATA Director General Willie Walsh called on Asia-Pacific governments to lift their remaining pandemic border restrictions [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

Walsh said governments should remove all restrictions for vaccinated travelers and quarantine and test for COVID-19 for unvaccinated arrivals in the majority of destinations that have high levels of population immunity.

“Things are getting better, but they won’t get better fast enough unless countries follow the lead of countries like Singapore and remove testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers,” a- he declared. “Science supports these initiatives.”

While most countries in the region have welcomed the return of tourists in recent months, many destinations still require a COVID test which leaves travelers at risk of missing their flight or being sent to quarantine.

Walsh pointed to China and Japan, the latest holdouts to large-scale travel with Taiwan, as major holes in the region’s recovery.

Tokyo announced on Tuesday that it would begin allowing limited package travel starting this month as a “test” to gather information for a broader tourism resumption at an unspecified later date. Beijing, which has doubled down on its ultra-strict “dynamic zero COVID” policy to stamp out the virus, gave no indication of when China might reopen its borders.

“As long as the Chinese government maintains its zero COVID approach, it is difficult to see the country’s borders reopening. This will hamper the region’s full recovery,” Walsh said.

“While Japan has taken steps to allow travel, there is no clear plan for reopening Japan for all incoming visitors or tourists. More needs to be done to further ease travel restrictions, starting by lifting quarantine for all vaccinated travelers and removing both airport testing upon arrival and the daily arrival cap. I urge the Government of Japan to take bolder measures to restoration and opening of the country’s borders.

“Cannot be replaced”

Gary Bowerman, director of Kuala Lumpur-based travel and tourism research firm Check-in Asia, said the region’s slow recovery underscores the outsized importance of China and Japan for travel and tourism. tourism.

“China, for example, provided 32 million visitors, almost a quarter of all visitors, to ASEAN in 2019. This level of attendance simply cannot be replaced,” Bowerman told Al Jazeera.

“Southeast Asia and Australia are heavily dependent on air traffic from China and Northeast Asia. Until China reopens, the recovery in Southeast Asia, for example, has a much lower ceiling. The region’s air transport ecosystem greatly needs China as it combines a mix of Chinese carriers, national carriers and low-cost carriers.

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