Air travel hit new heights in 2018, but regional growth variation is becoming wider

Global air travel grew by a very healthy 5.9% in 2018. That is the latest observation from ForwardKeys, which predicts future travel patterns by analysing 17 million booking transactions a day and other aviation data.


Highlights:

  • Global air travel grew by a very healthy 5.9% in 2018, according to data just released by Spanish data intelligence specialist, ForwardKeys;
  • Whilst air travel grew in nearly every part of the world, their data insight shows there were substantial regional variations;
  • Growth in Asia Pacific, at 9.6%, was more than three times stronger than the weakest performer, the Middle East, where flight departures grew by 2.8%.

But, whilst air travel grew in nearly every part of the world, their data insight shows there were substantial regional variations. Growth in Asia Pacific, at 9.6%, was more than three times stronger than the weakest performer, the Middle East, where flight departures grew by 2.8%. The second-best performing region was Europe, where air travel grew by 5.8%. Flight departures from Africa grew by 5.2% and from the Americas by 4.4%.

“The Travel & Tourism industry continues to grow strongly, outstripping the growth in global GDP, enhancing prosperity and creating jobs,” says Olivier Ponti, VP insights, ForwardKeys, but he warns that the industry must improve the travel experience for passengers and to better manage capacity.  “Yet another year of strong growth in air travel will put pressure on governments worldwide to invest in infrastructure to better manage the consumer’s growing appetite to travel,” he adds.

The growth in Asia Pacific was driven primarily by increasing travel within the region, according to the ForwardKeys data. Domestic travel was up 14.0% and departures between Asia Pacific countries were up 9.6%; whereas intercontinental departures were up by a lower, but still very healthy, 4.5%.

The growth in international air traffic within Asia Pacific is “a direct consequence of increasing disposable incomes, urbanisation and more dynamic lifestyles,” according to Mr Ponti. As the middle classes of large urban centres – especially in China – have more money in their pockets and a growing appetite for travel, they fly more often, initially within their own continent, and then further afield. “They have become a major driver of leisure and business travel worldwide,” explains the executive.

European air travel grew at virtually the same rate as the global average, but international travel within Europe, which was up 7.0%, grew faster than trips to other regions of the world, which was up 2.8%. Despite ‘Brexit’ dominating the headlines across the Continent this represents “a sign of the good shape of the European economy,” says ForwardKeys. The Middle-East registered the highest growth of intercontinental departures from Europe, at 5.8%, which the data suggests has been supported by the easing of security concerns in Egypt.

By contrast, the trend in the Americas was in the opposite direction. There, the growth in travel to other continents, at 7.1%, outstripped the growth in domestic air travel, which grew by 4.0%, and the growth in travel between countries, which grew by 3.2%. This would highlight the further maturity of the market and improved economic stability in South American nations supporting expanded flight offerings.

Assisted by several new routes such as Kenya Airways’ new New York to Nairobi link, ForwardKeys notes that Africa was the fastest growing destination for travellers departing from the Americas, up 8.5%. The African continent can generally be an anomaly when considering aviation data, notably the only region of the world that does not deliver airline profitability.

It is the same with the ForwardKeys insight. In Africa, growth in domestic air travel was negative, down by 0.9%, but on a positive note growth in international air travel to other African countries was strong, up 6.6%, perhaps highlighting that the path to a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) may not be as difficult as perhaps believed. But, connectivity outside of Africa remains key and growth in travel to other continents, where its main trading partners are located, was strongest, up 7.8%. Highlights included departures from Africa to Europe, up +9.3%, Asia Pacific, up +7.7%, and the Middle East up 6.9%.

Despite the ongoing blockade of Qatar, which started in June 2017 and which continues to hamper regional international travel, the ForwardKeys data shows the Middle East registered a 2.8% increase in air traffic. The decline of intra-regional travel was compensated by double-digit growth in domestic travel, up 10.9%, and a 2.5% increase in departures to other regions, with Europe benefitting the most from this trend, up 8.3%.