Airline industry executives are cautiously optimistic that Europe’s accelerated vaccine rollout will allow travel restrictions to be lifted and spur a strong rebound in trips to the continent this summer.
England reopened its borders for international leisure travel on Monday, but travelers are still required to take Covid tests at their own expense — and quarantine on return in some cases — placing holidays abroad out of reach for many.
Despite obstacles to travel, aviation bosses are hopeful that restrictions will ease further as Europe ramps up its vaccination drive after a slow start. That could lead to a much stronger summer for travel within Europe this year compared to 2020, when the industry was grappling with closed borders and frequent changes to travel guidance.
“What’s different this time is the success of the vaccination program,” EasyJet (ESYJY) CEO Johan Lundgren told CNN Business on Monday. “That is being rolled out quite efficiently and swiftly now across the rest of Europe.”
Europe recorded a 70% decrease in arrivals in 2020, or more than 500 million fewer international tourists, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. That was the largest drop globally in absolute terms and has badly damaged the economies of countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece.
Now, the European Union is considering opening in June to fully vaccinated vacationers from countries with low Covid infection rates, according to proposals published by the European Commission earlier this month.
Stewart Wingate the CEO of London’s Gatwick Airport, said he would like to see popular destinations for British travelers, including France, Spain, Italy and Greece, added to the UK government’s “green list” of countries, which have fewer restrictions.
In a sign that travelers are already betting on such an outcome, Europe’s largest low-cost carrier, Ryanair (RYAAY), has seen booking numbers surge. Bookings trebled from 500,000 in the first week of April to 1.5 million last week, CEO Michael O’Leary said in comments posted to the company’s website on Monday.
The airline expects traffic to recover between July and September, he added. “We expect to see a strong rebound this summer. There is significant pent up demand for air travel, from families in particular.”
O’Leary said that Ryanair is “somewhat optimistic” that if Europe vaccinates most of its adult population by the end of June, travel restrictions such as testing and quarantines, which have weighed on travel over the past year, will become increasingly difficult to justify.
“When you have widespread population vaccination, we see no reason for testing … It adds nothing,” he said.
Ryanair reported a loss of €815 million ($991.3 million) for the year to March 2021, compared to a profit of €1 billion ($1.2 billion) for the prior year.
The airline’s worst annual performance in its 35-year history was caused by an 81% collapse in passenger numbers from 149 million the year before the pandemic to just 27.5 million.
Ryanair expects passenger numbers for the 12 months to March 2022 to be at the lower end of a range between 80 million and 120 million, indicating that a recovery to pre-pandemic levels is still some way off.
— Anna Stewart and James Frater contributed reporting.