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Even With COVID-19 Vaccinations, Analysts Warn International Travel Could be Years Away

Even With COVID-19 Vaccinations, Analysts Warn International Travel Could be Years Away
Joe Cortez

As individuals around the world wait patiently for their chance to get vaccinated against the novel Coronavirus, travel analysts say international travel won’t resume anytime soon. Based on current warnings and vaccination rates, long-haul routes may not come back online until 2023.

For the international community, the COVID-19 vaccine was considered one of the keys to reopening travel. However, analysts are telling flyers not to make their bookings just yet, as questions remain about the global inoculation effort. Bloomberg reports international travel may not get off the ground until 2023, based on border restrictions and customer demand.

Vaccination Rates, Efficacy and Border Restrictions Could Stall Travel Recovery

Although experts agree that mass vaccination is the right step forward to restart the travel sector, it might not be enough on its own. Guidance from the World Health Organization suggests that early evidence does not indicate “whether or not they [the vaccines] stop transmission.”

To those ends, international entry requirements remain fractured, with nations taking split approaches to welcoming foreign travelers. While the United Arab Emirates only requires a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country, both Australia and New Zealand announced they would not fully open borders in 2021. For the United States, all inbound travelers must now provide COVID-19 test results prior to arrival, and prepare for a quarantine when they arrive.

For those reasons, experts are now projecting that international travel may not truly recover until 2023. While analysts predict that some international travel will resume in 2022, opening long-haul flights between nations may not restart until 2024.

Even the International Air Transport Association is now reducing their hopes that 2021 will be the year flyers come back to the skies. In their full-year 2020 passenger traffic results presentation, the organization predicted demand improvement could come up by only 13 percent this year – a far cry from the organization’s hopes for a 50-percent recovery in December.

“The world is more locked down today than at virtually any point in the past 12 months and passengers face a bewildering array of rapidly changing and globally uncoordinated travel restrictions,” IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said in a press release. “We urge governments to work with industry to develop the standards for vaccination, testing, and validation that will enable governments to have confidence that borders can reopen and international air travel can resume once the virus threat has been neutralized.”

Long Recovery Runway Aligned with Airline Predictions for the Future

The new data confirms projections for an industrywide depression going back to June 2020. Data provided by Cowen that month suggested airlines may not see pre-COVID passenger levels until 2025.

View Comments (16)


  1. edgewood49

    February 5, 2021 at 5:08 am

    Like many of us I have made and canceled any number of reservations for long haul international travel. For a few brief weeks there was a glimmer of hope that possibly some international destinations might be safely opened later on this summer, London being one with their vaccination program now it appears with number of new variants slow roll out in many nations EU is horrible your article is spot on. I am not going to cancel my planned trip to London late summer yet but now looking inward to the US. As for our forward plans to return to Capetown SA thats away in the future.

    It’s appearing more and more this virus will be with us for quite awhile and all its variants with annual “boosters” similar to flu shots. Sad.

  2. ezefllying

    February 5, 2021 at 2:21 pm

    I’m sorry. I’m hardly a denialist when it comes to this pandemic or its devastation of aviation, but I think the notion that long-haul travel won’t resume until 2024 is ridiculous.

    I can certainly see many countries severely restricting travel into early next year, depending on vaccine distribution. But the assertion that international travel is two years away sounds like attention-seeking fearmongering, probably spread by pundits who don’t have particularly deep health or geopolitical knowledge.

    Could places like Palau, which have remained virus-free, be especially cautious about reopening? Sure. Same for geographically isolated countries like NZ. But I don’t see most major economies with large land borders attempted to stay shut to business or tourist travel. If they’re doing so, our vaccination effort and larger pandemic response would have had to have failed spectacularly.

  3. OZFLYER86

    February 5, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    experts and analysts ? Who ? Plenty disagree. BTW-Qantas, Australia’s biggest airline, is taking booking for international from 1 July 2021.

    I think experts mentioned above aren’t experts at all.

    If we don’t get the world opening up soon, there will be civil war all over the place.

  4. malbarda


    February 6, 2021 at 5:09 am

    And this article doesn’t even address the learnings from Video business calling. I predict that business travel, international AND domestic, will forever have changed. I don’t see myself taking daytrips to clients anymore in the future. Or attend every meeting in person. Now that we know it can be done, the bean counters will look more critically at business travel. And rightly so. Some will remain essential, but my prediction is that it will be substantially less.

  5. srdshelly

    February 7, 2021 at 6:10 am

    While full recovery may not happen for that long, I can see many devastated countries welcoming people who have been fully vaccinated much sooner than that. There is really no reason not to.

  6. OZFLYER86

    February 8, 2021 at 12:36 am

    the worlds best airline, Singapore Airlines doesn’t have ANY domestic market, so if they don’t have international opening soon, they like many other airlines will no longer exist. Don’t something like 10% of worlds working rely on international tourism to survive ?

  7. Valmoth323

    February 8, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    One thing I’ve learned in the last year– Analysts and “experts” are useless as it relates to predicting and advising on the impacts of a global virus that has no precedent in our modern lifetimes. Personally, I fully anticipate that the economic contribution of international travel for most of the countries in the world will outweigh the risk of fear of the disease as the year progresses. I’ve recently booked flights for this summer and am confident I will enjoy the benefit of experiencing travel in 2021. However, I acknowledge that there are experts who say we will be locked down until 2023. or 2030. Or perhaps forever since viruses never go away.

  8. drvannostren

    February 8, 2021 at 9:50 pm

    This is about as big of a bummer as I could read.

    To the poster who mentioned QF taking bookings…I wouldnt read TOO much into that. There’s plenty of movement on that.

    If this is accurate too I agree with the assertion that SQ could go under. CX as well off the top of my head.

    I think that many landlocked countries will be open in some shape or form. The biggest question mark for me is who will require quarantines and for how long. I don’t work from home, I’m “essential” but likely don’t qualify for any exemption and trying to find out if I do isn’t easy. That means I’m frozen here in Canada, as much as I want/need to go abroad, I can’t be quarantining for 14 days upon arrival home. I think countries will have to start testing more, like T-72 test before boarding, then another test on arrival, maybe a couple days quarantine then another test? I’m sure people have better ideas than me, but we can’t just have countries closed indefinitely or with requirements that really aren’t feasible to meet.

  9. carmine10

    February 9, 2021 at 3:54 am

    I think that all airlines should adapt and allow vaccinated people to travel without any problem.

  10. sfoeuroflyer

    February 9, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    We have had enough of so-called “experts” pontificating during this crisis. Most of what they have said has been wrong. Really wrong. I hope that governments will come to their senses and understand the effect of vaccinations. Denmark, so far, is in the lead. What’s interesting is that being on an airliner these days has not been shown to be risky. So the trouble with travel seems to be what happens on arrival at a border.

  11. edgewood49

    February 9, 2021 at 5:06 pm

    Excuse me but I think Israel is considered the “leader” in per capita vaccinations. Its not the airliner its where your going, staying eating, seeing etc etc. One can be a hero but this horse has a long run ahead of itself. If you sure hey take a trip to JNB for us.

  12. DSOhio

    February 10, 2021 at 5:15 am

    I agree, the “analysts” and “experts” on travel and COVID-19 aren’t doing their research. I traveled to Mazatlan from Ohio in December with no issues and have a one week vacation planned for later this month in Puerto Morelos. Here is what I experienced on my trip to Mazatlan:
    Airlines require everyone to wear a mask for the duration of the flight – no exceptions. Entry into Mexico was easy, just a form to fill out, no vaccination or quarantine required. I stayed at the El Cid Marina Resort. Masks were worn by all staff and guests. Hand sanitizer is visible everywhere and given to you before you enter the restaurants. I saw the lobby being sprayed with disinfectant – the floors, the furniture, plants, everything. The travel industry is doing everything it can to keep people safe. I felt safer on the plane and at the resort than I do in my local grocery store. People that are traveling are complying with airline and hotel regulations and Mexico has stepped up to keep visitors safe. Don’t listen to the fear mongers that go under the guise of “analyst” or “expert”. As long as people do what they’re supposed to do we can curb this thing and the travel industry will be back. I also have a cruise planned in October that I am looking forward to.

  13. bozacksmith

    February 10, 2021 at 9:10 am

    vaccinations aren’t a guarantee of non spreading. Even Moderna is saying theirs should only reduce spread by 2/3rds and they seem to be ahead of the other vaccination vendors. Just more hoops to jump through that most of us won’t.

    If half of my wifes staff at the local childrens and Covid hospital aren’t getting the vaccinations they surely won’t just for travel. We will spend $$ elsewhere.

  14. edgewood49

    February 10, 2021 at 4:55 pm

    Mexico is the “benchmark” of sanitation in the world. So DSOhio have you been vaccinated? If not I wish you well

  15. Dublin_rfk

    February 12, 2021 at 6:30 pm

    If you are looking at politicians and expecting a sane and rational solution to the problems that they exacerbated good luck.

  16. edgewood49

    February 16, 2021 at 5:36 am

    And now CDC recommends no travel to Mexico but then hey what do they know !!

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