International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Willie Walsh blames “overly risk-averse” governments for extending the COVID-19 crisis for the travel and tourism industry. However, Walsh believes that positive data on vaccine effectiveness could convince governments to ease travel restrictions and expects a brighter outlook during the second half of the year.
“There is some good evidence there to be optimistic that, going into the second half of this year, we will see a better environment that will allow more people to travel,” Walsh said. “The crisis in the airline industry, which was initially caused by a health pandemic, is now really a crisis caused by restrictions being imposed by government.”
According to Walsh, mixed political communications on travel have created “incredible farcical confusion” for the tourism sector, while stringent testing and quarantine measures are no longer necessary due to widespread rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
He singled out the United Kingdom in particular, citing restrictions that require people arriving into Britain from nearly all countries to take at least two COVID-19 tests and enter quarantine. Walsh said most countries on Britain’s “amber list” for medium-risk travel have very, very low transmission rates.
“If I was vaccinated, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly to these countries,” he said of places such as the United States, Spain, France and Italy, which before the pandemic, were top destinations for U.K. residents.
U.K. officials claim its cautious approach to the return of international travel was designed to prioritise public health.
Walsh also commented that the increasing number of vaccinated travelers gives him hope for the air travel corridor between the U.S. and U.K. to be reopened in June.
“I think there’s a good reason to be optimistic that we should be able to see the UK and U.S. open transatlantic flying again,” Walsh continued.
The IATA warned government officials last week, that unless they move to digitalize travel health credentials, including vaccine certificates or negative COVID-19 tests, there would be chaos at airports as more and more passengers return to flying.
Earlier this month, data from the IATA indicated that while air travel numbers are still low, they are beginning to bounce back.