Citing China's tougher border measures and Japan's cautious approach to reopening for inbound travel, Airports Council International (ACI) Asia-Pacific has warned the region could be displaced as the world's largest air passenger market for the year of 2022.

In a release, ACI Asia-Pacific forecasts that after dominating the global civil aviation market for several years before the COVID-19 pandemic it could be overtaken by Europe and North America.

According to ACI, the group's latest forecast indicates that by the end of 2022, passenger traffic in the region will only recover by around 55% compared to pre-pandemic levels – lower than the rate of recovery of other regions. The group predicts the estimated traffic for the region in 2022 will be 1.84 billion passengers – a decline of 45% compared to 2019.

Prior to the pandemic, the Asia-Pacific region saw 3.38 billion passengers in 2019, representing 37% of the global air passenger traffic of 9.16 billion. During 2020, the region saw an unprecedented crash of 54% in traffic amid travel restrictions. With several large domestic markets, the region did dominate the traffic share with 1.57 billion passengers – 44% of the global traffic of 3.6 billion.

In 2021, the region saw a smaller decline of 4% in passenger traffic compared to 2020. ACI stated that the region saw 1.50 billion people travelling by air, which helped the region maintain its lead in global air traffic accounting for 33% of 4.6 billion air travelers globally.

“The traffic in the region will not be able to fully recover to 2019 levels unless all Countries keep their borders open to facilitate freedom of movement. China and Japan-- one of the largest contributors to the regions overall traffic-- have been slow in lifting travel and COVID restrictions. We are urging States to take a measured approach to facilitate the recovery in a more sustainable manner and without causing significant impact on their healthcare system. Accelerating the recovery will need a whole of industry and government support, especially in view of an increasingly challenging macroeconomic scenario,” said Stefano Baronci, Director General, ACI Asia-Pacific.

Call for the Easing of Travel Restrictions to Japan

In addition to announcing its air passenger traffic forecast for the Asia-Pacific region, ACI Asia-Pacific called on the Japanese government to ease travel restrictions to the country.

While appreciating the efforts of the Government of Japan's to provide a safe environment for its citizens amid the pandemic and the of easing restrictions, the ACI Asia-Pacific has written a letter – co-signed by ACI World and World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) – urging the Prime Minister of Japan to remove all restrictions and restore travel priviledges to enable a smooth recovery of the industry in the region.

In the letter, the group wrote: “Appreciating the Government of Japan's efforts for providing safe environment for its citizens amid the pandemic and easing of restrictions on international air travel in a phased manner, the three organisations urged the Government to take necessary actions to bolster the recovery of the industry, including resumption of visa exemptions to countries that had such an agreement with Japan. This reform is considered particularly urgent in view of economies still battling strong headwinds, including geopolitical instability in eastern Europe and its subsequent impact on global macroeconomics, including high inflation and rising energy prices. All these external factors too are causing disruptions in supply chains, negatively hampering the recovery of the industry.”

Adding to the calls for the easing of travel restrictions to Japan, Baronci said: “There are positive signs emerging from Japan where the Government is considering on lifting of daily arrival caps to spur tourism to revive their economy, and it will benefit the industry to a greater extent. We hope to see positive outcome in the very near future.”

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