Governments urged to support air travel recovery in Asia-Pacific
ACI Asia-Pacific and the Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association (APTRA) are urging governments and policymakers to enact a simpler, harmonised approach for travel health checks and regulations to encourage passenger confidence to fly again as borders progressively reopen.
The warning comes as both organisations fear that Asia-Pacific’s air travel industry is losing its competitiveness and significantly lagging behind other regions.
Data from ACI shows that compared to the pre-COVID traffic forecasts for Asia-Pacific, passenger numbers were down 63% in 2021 and are expected to be 49% below the projected baseline levels in 2022.
The decline is likely to be echoed by a similar fall in revenues, with $27 billion in income expected to be lost across the region in 2022.
ACI Asia-Pacific director general, Stefano Baronci, said: “Now that States in Asia-Pacific are opening up to international traffic, there is an absolute need to properly assess the impact of health measures on passengers and to avoid excessive requirements.
“Scientific and consolidated practices at international level provide ample justification for applying simpler measures at all airports, for vaccinated passengers, that would bring the region back to its leading position for air travel and tourism.
“This requires adopting harmonised and simplified travel protocols and health credentials verification processes, which have become excessively complicated and scarcely predictable”.
The choice of some States, such as Australia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Philippines, Malaysia and Korea to open borders to international passengers who are fully vaccinated without quarantine is in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the approach taken by majority of countries in the world.
A survey by ACI Asia-Pacific in March 2022 with airport operators in 11 key aviation markets shows that operational challenges still need to be addressed to improve the passenger experience at airports.
The biggest issues reported a lack of internationally aligned digital health checks, predominant reliance on paper documents leading to onerous and time-consuming manual checks, the obligation to be tested before departure and after arrival, extra time required for manual processing of passengers (especially at arrival) and repeated manual document checking (especially at departure).
In a letter addressed to government health, tourism and trade and industry department authorities, APTRA and ACI Asia-Pacific recommend a series of measures to address the issues preventing the recovery of the sector and regional economies as a whole, especially considering the region’s reliance on tourism:
• The implementation of an evidence and risk-based approach as recommended by ICAO and WHO when reviewing and implementing travel regimes, and the avoidance of blanket travel bans and quarantines;
• The implementation of a compatible Digital Covid Certificate (or equivalent) to facilitate safe and easy travel within Asia Pacific, as has also been mooted by the ICAO and the WHO, globally and as some states in Asia, Europe and the Middle East have followed multilaterally, e.g. within the EU States;
• The reciprocal recognition and harmonisation of protocols, health credentials and vaccination requirements on a regional and/or sub-regional level to minimise the need for repeated checking of health certificates and tracing and to reduce the time required to process passengers. This includes that if COVID testing is required, it should be limited to pre-departure testing so as to alleviate congestion at airports.
APTRA president, Sunil Tuli, said: “As more countries in the region open up, we are asking all APAC governments to reduce onerous protocols and requirements that currently vary from country to country and that negatively impact consumer appetite for travel.
“For us in the travel retail space, our member brands, retailers and food and beverage operators have struggled with the lack of passenger traffic in airports that adversely impacts trade and that, in turn, has a negative impact on airport revenues.
“Through this campaign, we hope to revitalise the industry in Asia Pacific and make it easier for people to travel and experience the world.”