SINGAPORE, 20 September 2023: ForwardKeys, a leading travel analytics firm, reports worldwide summer (1 July to 31 August) flight bookings were 23% behind pre-pandemic (2019) levels and 31% ahead of last year.
By analysing the top destinations and origin markets compared to last year and pre-pandemic levels in 2019, ForwardKeys identified five major global air travel trends this summer.
- US dominance
- Patchy post-pandemic recovery
- The Far East revving up
- Resilience of classic beach destinations
- The heatwave
US Dominates the Ranking
In ranking 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 (1 July to 31 August). Spain, the UK, Italy, Japan, France, Mexico, Germany, Canada and Türkiye followed.
The US was even more dominant in outbound travel. Regarding source markets, the US ranked top with an 18% share of scheduled flight bookings. Germany, the UK, Canada, France, South Korea, China, Japan, Spain and Italy followed.
Travel was up last year by a double-digit figure for most countries, 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 was 17% up on last year and 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 Revving Up
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.
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 exceeded the summer of 2019, and most showed strong growth from last year. Top of the list is Costa Rica, 19% up in 2019 and 15% up in 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; 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 substantially impacted television screens, they only impacted tourism, as most holidaymakers had already booked. A spate of cancellations affected Rhodes, but flight bookings recovered to normal levels in 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.
ForwardKeys VP Insights, Olivier Ponti said: “Throughout the pandemic, US travellers were an economic lifeline for many Caribbean destinations. As other parts of the world relaxed their entry restrictions, Americans came. This summer, they have been extremely helpful to many European destinations. The world’s other major tourism powerhouse, China, is starting to revive. Looking ahead to Q4 and further to 2024, I am increasingly optimistic. Currently, 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. Central America follows it, 33% ahead and the Caribbean, 24% ahead.”