Global air travel demand reaches 99% of 2019 levels

In a positive sign for the global tourism industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has reported that air travel demand has surged to 99 per cent of 2019 levels, based on its November 2023 air travel performance data. This resurgence in global travel has not only rejuvenated the aviation sector but has also had a substantial impact on tourism-dependent nations, with the Maldives emerging as a significant beneficiary.

The IATA’s November 2023 data revealed a robust 29.7 per cent increase in total air traffic (measured in Revenue Passenger Kilometers – RPKs) compared to the same period in 2022. The Asia-Pacific region led the way with a remarkable 63.8 per cent year-over-year increase, showcasing a swift recovery. International traffic also witnessed a substantial rise of 26.4 per cent compared to November 2022, reaching 94.5 per cent of November 2019 levels.

Domestic travel experienced an impressive growth of 34.8 per cent in November 2023 compared to the previous year, with total domestic traffic surpassing November 2019 levels by 6.7 per cent. Notably, China stood out with an extraordinary 272 per cent increase in air travel, rebounding from the Covid-related restrictions imposed a year earlier.

As the global aviation industry inches closer to surpassing the 2019 peak year, regions like the Middle East reported an 18.6 per cent increase in traffic, signaling a broad-based recovery. Middle Eastern airlines saw a rise in capacity by 19 per cent, though the load factor dipped slightly to 77.4 per cent.

For the Maldives the global surge in air travel brings encouraging news. With the international travel industry rebounding, the Maldives has become an attractive destination for tourists seeking pristine beaches, overwater bungalows, and vibrant marine life.

Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA, emphasized the resilience of the aviation sector despite economic challenges and expressed optimism about the industry’s trajectory. However, he underscored the need for increased production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) to support the industry’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“In parallel to aviation’s recovery, governments recognized the urgency of transitioning from jet fuel to SAF for aviation’s decarbonization. Airlines agreed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and every drop of SAF ever made in that effort has been bought and used. There simply is not enough SAF being produced,” said Walsh.

Post-pandemic, the Maldives not only rebounded but also solidified its position as a leading destination in 2023. A glance at tourist arrivals over the past five years highlights the Maldives’ growth:

  • 2019: 1,702,831 tourists
  • 2020: 555,494 tourists
  • 2021: 1.2 million tourists
  • 2022: 1.5 million tourists
  • 2023: 1,878,537 tourists
  • 2024: 2 million tourists (forecast by the government)

While there may be bumps on the road ahead, the outlook for Maldivian tourism remains overwhelmingly positive. As global air travel continues its ascent, the Maldives stands ready to welcome visitors from all corners of the globe, offering a slice of paradise amidst the azure Indian Ocean.