A travel review of 2022 paints a conflicting picture in which optimism over an apparent return to ‘normal’ following the Covid-19 pandemic is offset by pessimism regarding other threats including escalating geopolitical tensions and industry challenges. Luis Millan, Head of Research at ForwardKeys highlights the six main reasons for concern and relief. 

A new strain of Covid-19

The emergence of a highly transmissible Covid-19 variant, Omicron, initially caused concern, and governments reintroduced certain travel restrictions to curtail its spread. However, with the new strain ultimately proving less severe than previous variants, those restrictions were soon lifted, and travel rebounded quickly.

The response to Omicron showed that markets and authorities were learning to cope with the pandemic and adapt to a “new normal”. It reflected the general acceptance that society will have to live with Covid-19 for some time yet – but that, in Western markets at least, the pandemic is no longer a serious barrier to travel.

Escalating geopolitical tensions

Swiftly replacing news coverage of the Omicron outbreak were reports on the escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war, with Russia launching a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. Although the situation in Ukraine had a short-lived impact on travel to Europe, it has nonetheless had far-reaching consequences, the full extent of which is yet to be determined.

In the short term, the rerouting of air traffic to avoid Russian airspace has increased the cost of travel to Asia at a time when several Asian destinations are reopening to visitors. In the mid-term, inflation, exacerbated by the conflict, is eroding consumer purchasing power, while rising fuel prices are increasing the cost of airline operations. The potential for further flare-ups in violence, meanwhile, represents a hanging threat to European consumer confidence.

Airport chaos

It was not long before reports on the conflict in Ukraine made way for a new story: significant delays and widespread cancellations at airports in major Western markets. A hangover from the pandemic, during which many airports and airlines laid off considerable numbers of staff, the chaos arose in May ahead of the summer season, when travel demand began to outstrip supply. For people planning holidays abroad, the images that dominated television screens during the height of the disruption made for concerning viewing, and many were deterred from booking flights entirely.

Slower recovery for Asia Pacific

Airports in Asia-Pacific have not experienced the same chaos as those in Europe – largely because the region has taken a more cautious approach to reopen following the global health crisis and its travel market is consequently recovering at a slower rate.

Although China’s ongoing absence from the Asia Pacific travel landscape poses a considerable obstacle to the region’s overall recovery, other markets have made bold moves towards full reactivation based on less-stringent policies. Examples include Australia, which began welcoming visitors on 6 July; Indonesia, which opened to vaccinated travellers on 4 February; and Thailand, which scrapped testing as an entry requirement on 1 April. India, which opened to all vaccinated travellers on 27 March, has made a particularly significant contribution to regional travel recovery by capitalising on pent-up demand from both the VFR and leisure segments.

Challenges ahead for aviation

Providing a bleak backdrop to the events and trends that have shaped the travel industry in 2022 are the longer-term challenges facing aviation. Among these is the aforementioned inflation, which, as well as threatening to negate pent-up demand, is calling into question the sustainability of the low-cost air travel model.

At one point, the business travel market also appeared to be under threat. However, the recovery of this segment has accelerated throughout 2022, catching up with that of leisure in the fourth quarter of the year. With leisure travel recovering first, and now the business segment following a similar pattern, it would appear that the travel industry as a whole – except for the Asia Pacific market – is approaching normality. Nevertheless, given the other challenges facing the industry, caution is advised.

Arguably the greatest threat to aviation is climate change, with many consumers opting to forego air travel to minimise their carbon footprint. As environmentalist movements gather pace and the public consciousness places ever-more importance on green values and practices, the aviation industry must work harder to appeal to the eco-conscious tourist.

Reasons for optimism

Although this travel year has posed numerous challenges to the industry, there are reasons to be optimistic as 2023 approaches. Recovery has been particularly strong in Western markets, and several countries in the Asia Pacific region appear to be following similar patterns. There, as we have already seen in the West, a combination of VFR and Leisure is helping international travel to regain the share of demand it lost to domestic tourism during the pandemic.

Asia Pacific’s gradual recovery is positive news for the industry as a whole, and if governments, destinations, and airlines can work together to inspire consumer confidence, it is only a matter of time until every region is welcoming similar numbers of international tourists as in 2019.

Moreover, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar proceeding as planned, and fans and athletes able to attend without issues promises the travel industry’s full reactivation and the further rebuilding of consumer confidence in 2023.

Uncover more travel gems beyond the travel review for 2022 in the Most Visited Destinations Report.


the most visited destinations 2022

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2022-12-05T11:51:05+01:0005/12/2022|All, DMO, In the News|
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