Summer global air recovery on the rise, but patchy: ForwardKeys

Travel analytics firm ForwardKeys has identified six major trends in global air travel this summer, with US dominance, a patchy post-pandemic recovery, improvements in the Far East, resilience of classic beach destinations, and limited impact of heatwave being among them.

Worldwide, summer (July 1 – August 31) flight bookings were 23% behind pre-pandemic (2019) levels and 31% ahead of last year.

Source: ForwardKeys actual air tickets

US dominates the ranking
In the ranking of the most visited country destinations by share of scheduled flight bookings, the US 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 US was even more dominant in outbound travel. In the ranking of source markets, the US 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.

Patchy recovery
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.

The Far East revs up
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 10 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 among the slowest in the world to recover, it still manages to hit seventh place thanks to its sheer size.

Countries famous for their beaches and warm waters did very well this summer

Classic beach destinations are most resilient
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 10 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. 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; and their efforts have certainly paid off. The same has also been true of Greece, Portugal, and the UAE.

Limited impact of the heatwave
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 holidaymakers had already booked. 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.

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