Social distancing, businesswoman wearing face mask
  • New coronavirus waves, and new lockdown regulations across the world has reversed the slow recovery of international travel seen by early December.
  • Travellers are now waiting for a coronavirus vaccine before thinking of crossing borders again, a new survey shows.
  • One travel agency is hoping for a return to around 60% of pre-coronavirus business travel numbers – by mid 2022.
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South Africa’s business travellers were just beginning to move around again in December when a second wave, and new variants, put the brakes on again.

Now one local travel agency is hoping to see 60% of pre-coronavirus business travel again only by mid-2022, as the broader travel market awaits a widespread and effective vaccine.

From July 2020 onwards, there had been a gradual recovery in business travel, leading group Flight Centre told Business Insider South Africa. By December, its travel volumes for corporate travel had come back up by just under 40% compared to December 2019, said Andrew Stark, Flight Centre’s managing director for Middle East and Africa.

Then the world changed again, with second waves in various countries, new variants closing down borders, and new or tougher lockdowns in many countries, including South Africa.

With final numbers not yet in, Flight Centre was projecting January numbers at around a quarter of previous years.

“For the remainder of 2021, we envision a number of false starts throughout the year as the Covid pandemic remains unpredictable. Once the vaccine is more widely available, we expect to see a stabilisation of the numbers,” Stark said.

“For the next two years, our projection is that corporate travel will recover to 60% of pre-pandemic levels by June 2022,” he said.

Corporate travel is traditionally less prone to shocks and trends than leisure travel, but both sectors now see their fortunes tied very closely to vaccine rollouts, and the success of vaccines.

In a Travel News survey of South African travel agents, 46% said their clients would not be travelling – not even domestically – before vaccinations. 15% said their clients wanted to travel only locally.

When travellers start to return, they may find the experience to be a different one. For now, at least, said Stark, passenger services are focussed on "moving people around safely in the least amount of time" rather than comfort.

"Urgency is currently definitely trumping convenience," he said.

At the same time, limited airlines flying into and out of South Africa "creates logistical challenges" – which anyone who wants to travel has to live with.

(Compiled by Ntando Thukwana)

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