With 2021 ending, many are wondering what to expect of the New Year as the Omicron variant breaks news headlines around the world. The team of analysts at ForwardKeys, step back to examine some of the key learnings as they review 2021 from the perspective of a travel professional, highlighting the key travel trends.

The full and in-depth analysis covering world regions, airports, airlines, and travel segments, can be downloaded at the bottom of the article, but here’s a quick summary of just three of the top 8 global travel trends noted by the experts at ForwardKeys.

1.US Leisure travel drives recovery, not China

In a year where much-anticipated travel recovery was being scrutinised by government officials to investors and luck-less travellers, the strength of the US leisure market took many by surprise.

A comparison of the world’s top destination cities, before the pandemic in 2019, and throughout 2021, illustrates the strong trend towards leisure travel leading to the recovery.

Several major cities have been pushed down or out of the top 20 rankings, whereas major leisure destinations, particularly for US holidaymakers, have climbed high.

While Dubai remains at the top of the list (it is a major leisure destination as well as a substantial travel and commerce hub), the most notable rises include, Miami, from 18th to 5th, Madrid from 16th to 10th and new into the list, Cancun (Mexico) at 2nd, Cairo (Egypt) at 9th,  Punta Cana (Dominical Republic) at 12th, San Juan (Puerto Rico) at 13th, Lisbon at 14th, Athens at 15th, Mexico City at 16th, Palma Mallorca at 17th, and Frankfurt at 20th.

slide to see the change

2. Major European airlines struggle disproportionately

Largely due to the travel trend towards domestic travel in large-sized countries, airlines in those markets have managed to weather the COVID-19 storm better than carriers whose business has been more oriented towards short-haul international travel.

This is illustrated by an analysis of the top 20 airlines in 2021 compared to 2019. The major European carriers have all fallen or are out of the ranking.

They have been replaced by airlines that have substantial business in China and the US, which have been better able to maintain capacity.

For example, Ryanair and EasyJet, the two largest European carriers, have fallen from 5th and 8th position respectively, to 7th and 16th. Lufthansa, British Airways and Air France, Europe’s largest legacy carriers, have fallen out of the top 20 list, as have Emirates and Air Canada. They have instead been replaced by Shenzhen, JetBlue, Spirit, Hainan, and Xiamen.

3. Doha and Amsterdam have advanced in the battle of the hubs

In the battle of the hubs, Doha overtook Dubai to become the preeminent hub airport in the Middle East, connecting air traffic between South Asia, the Middle East, North America and Sub-Saharan Africa. In Europe, Amsterdam closed the gap on Frankfurt for intra-European transits and connections with North America.

Analysis of monthly traffic in 2021 shows that Amsterdam briefly overtook Frankfurt in September and October, but it fell back in November. In the same month, Dubai recovered its lead over Doha for the first time since February.

ForwardKeys has been pioneering travel intelligence for peers in tourism, hospitality, finance, and media since 2010 with its innovative approach to traveller statistics, from the terminal level at airports to transits and final destinations. Stay informed and subscribe to our newsletter.

If you would like to uncover the six other travel trends with supporting statistical evidence using the most comprehensive flight data from ForwardKeys, download the full analysis below.