The need to establish common travel protocols at a European level and pre-departure testing in 2021 is key for aviation and tourism to begin to recover from the effects of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, according to all participants of a recent virtual event held by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The association, which represents some 290 airlines comprising 82 percent of global air traffic, brought together ministers and aviation sector professionals to discuss “Leading Greece into a New Aviation Reality” and the future of the travel industry in the post-Covid-19 era.
Commenting on the fact that EU recommendations on a coordinated approach for travel in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Schengen area have not been adopted by all EU states, with countries instead establishing different travel protocols, Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe, underlined that the coronavirus pandemic should be a moment for all to come together.
“But we have not seen that after the recommendations issued by the EU and we are still seeing a debate going on… We have seen a very diverted approach to the situation,” Schvartzman said.
IATA: Greece could play a leading role
“We, the industry, including airlines, airports and authorities, have proven that flying is safe and now what needs to be put in place are the health measures that will be aligned across the region,” he added.
Underlining that quarantine measures, which basically have “killed demand all across Europe”, can be avoided through common travel protocols and pre-departure testing, Schvartzman applauded Greece’s example of implementing effective measures to open to tourism in the summer.
“Τhe Greek example is a very good one and something that we have been repeating constantly: the effective use of testing in a fast and reliable way and also the effective use of track and tracing,” IATA’s Regional VP for Europe said, adding that states like Greece should take the lead and establish partnerships at EU level on the issue.
“We need to have more of that across Europe and less of a fragmented approach that we have seen so far,” he said.
It is reminded that Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis recently submitted Greece’s EU-wide proposal to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) concerning the implementation of rapid antigen testing – which are said to save both time and money compared to PCR tests – at European airports in order to facilitate seamless travel and this way boost the aviation and tourism industries.
Greece pushes for new regime of Covid-19 testing
Speaking during IATA’s virtual event, Minister Theoharis underlined that Greece has taken political initiatives to establish a new regime of testing (rapid antigen testing) that can replace horizontal geographical bans and quarantines based on the test results.
“We have taken special trips to Brussels to educate, talk about and advocate on the need of this new travel protocol so we can see a recovery,” the minister said, adding that Greece’s discussions with European decision makers have influenced the direction the EU is taking as antigen testing prior to flying is being taken under consideration.
Moreover, Theoharis informed that he recently submitted another proposal to the UNWTO, regarding the creation of a technical team that would come up with a policy proposal for a common approach for the future of travel worldwide. The UNWTO has accepted his proposal and will create such a team that will see the participation of bodies including IATA, ACI and WHO.
“The first steps of Europe are there, the traffic light system is there. The discussion about harmonizing the effects of the traffic light system, regarding the quarantine measures countries impose, is now ongoing and I think the next phase will be the introduction of antigen tests into the travel chain, which will allow more – not fully – but more unrestricted travel to take place and thus lead to a recovery,” he said.
When asked to make an assessment of the course of Greek tourism in 2021, the minister stressed that if travel continues as is, the ministry’s baseline scenario shows that some 29 to 30 percent of 2019 revenue will only be available for the Greek tourism market.
However, Theoharis underlined that if a different testing regime is adopted and assuming that a vaccine is not available right away next year, then Greece could possibly look forward to “a more realistic scenario close to 50 percent and a more optimistic scenario of more than 60 percent of 2019 revenue”.
“Ιt’s very important for Greece, Europe and the rest of the world that we push together to work towards a more harmonized approach to travel,” the Greek minister stressed.
Athens Airport: Antigen tests are a game changer
On his part, Athens International Airport (AIA) CEO Yiannis Paraschis highlighted the importance of coordination and collaboration of all those involved in aviation and tourism for a new common protocol for travel.
“Greece was among the first countries that were trying to promote the idea of pre-departure testing but unfortunately we were not able to convince them back then and now everyone talks about it,” Paraschis said.
Underlining that antigen tests are a game changer and that business planning for next year can not depend on the possible availability of a vaccine, AIA’s CEO said that 2021 should be considered as a special year where “we have to ensure business continuity based on testing” and try to reinstate confidence in travel and aviation.
AIA’s drop in passenger traffic in 2020 due to the pandemic (with the exception of the first two months of the year), is 77 percent compared to 2019.
For next year he expects a “big revenue gap” as passenger traffic in 2021 is expected to reach some 50 percent of that in 2019, given that for 2020 the number of passengers is expected to eventually reach one third of the number recorded in 2019.
AEGEAN: ‘Predictability’ is essential for aviation to move forward
From the airlines side, AEGEAN Chairman Eftichios Vassilakis underlined that “predictability” is needed from now on for aviation to move forward.
“The main problem beyond the actual dealing of the crisis is the need for the protocols for flying to be defined across Europe and across the world so we have predictability and the processes that can show our customers that things are safe,” he said, highlighting that predictability is also needed for hoteliers, airports, airlines, tourism and transportation professionals in order for them to be effective in their 2021 planning in a different way than this year.
“This is the difference that 2021 has to have with 2020. We’re not doctors, we’re not scientists, we’re not able to predict how quickly the pandemic will be combated but we have to ensure that cooperation throughout the sector is much better than it was this year across countries so that practices that have proven to work, like testing before flight, are indeed adopted and they do become the dominant practice and that allows all of us in the industry to gradually take a path to recovery which will be quite slow and very painful,” Vassilakis said.
Along with the need for travel to be based on common protocols and the necessity of pre-flight testing, AEGEAN’s CEO said that the United States and Asia are needed to get back into the game for transport towards Europe for the interconnection of destinations.
“Tourism needs to be served on a global level and not just on a regional level,” Vassilakis said.
According to IATA, the impact of Covid-19 on air travel demand to Greece so far has been severe. The association estimates that more than 30 million fewer passengers will fly to and from Greece in 2020, a reduction of around 61 percent compared to 2019. The fall is expected to negatively impact the Greek economy by 10 billion euros, and it puts more than 273,000 jobs at risk.
IATA’s chief economist, Brian Pearce, said that the association’s baseline forecast is for global aviation to recover to 2019 levels by 2023.