#Voices of Travel: Devendra Khurana inspects the trajectory of decline in air travel and the worldwide effects of the pandemic

In this ongoing series, we explore how humans of travel are mitigating the ongoing COVID19 outbreak. Devender Khurana, Trivalos International charts the trajectory of decline in air travel and ponders over possible ways to overcome the pandemic that has brought the travel industry to a standstill.

Thursday, February the 27th, 2020, a shared statement was issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) dissuading people across the globe from travelling without a pressing cause. The statement read, “WHO does not recommend any travel or trade restriction, but health measures must be implemented in ways that minimize unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.”

The statement itself substantiates the alarming circumstances brought forward by the Novel Corona Virus, proverbially known as COVID-19. Wuhan, China, where the now declared pandemic emanated, had seen a rise in flight cancellations and a dearth of new booking since early January itself. Sinchuan Airlines, XiamenAir and Air China are just a few of the several Chinese carriers who are refunding full amounts to the travellers who had planned transit, to or through China and, where the business has come to a complete standstill. Going by the state of affairs, the largest developing economy in the world found itself in, it was only a question of sooner or later that the same was going to be mirrored all over the World.

The travel industry forms a crucial portion of the global economy and is virtually bigger than any other industry. Solely responsible for contributing a colossal 5.7 Trillion USD globally, it is a source of employment to nearly 320 Million people, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that one in every ten people are in one way or the other directly related to the travel business- why- because it’s such a mixed bag and includes much that we don’t even think of, barring airline and hotel business, it’s also closely tangled with restaurant, trade and technology businesses. With the outbreak of the Coronavirus the aforementioned revenues, jobs and industries are in grave jeopardy.

Indeed, China, the hotbed of COVID-19, has seen its travel industry most sorely hit by this turn of events. Per the American Carrier, United Airlines, there has been an outright plunge in the number of fliers going to and from China, where around 180 million people hold a passport, which is about 35 million more than the United States. Compounding concerns is the fact that United Airlines has also stated that almost 75% of the near-term demand has taken a tumble both in China as well as the rest of the trans-pacific region.

Abutting China, India too has experienced the worst of the ongoing epidemic. Plans are already in place to warden off places, significant for travel and strategic purposes. Stringent regimen is being followed across airports and not a single flight, belonging especially to corona-struck nations, has alighted in a fortnight. The apprehensions are such that even inland travel has reached a stalemate. Hotels have started appearing like haunted houses and are kept busy with cancelling chunks and chunks of bookings done erstwhile by potential customers. The market grapevine whispers that, the hospitality industry has already lost close to 50 million Rupees in earnings before taxes and are helplessly lying in wait for more. Close to India, Iran is also going through testing times, as their national carrier, Iran Air has indefinitely put on hold all its operations and the countries railway too has reached a dead end, as an aftermath to the Coronavirus.

This sharp decline has gradually expanded beyond Asia’s mainland. Europe too has witnessed a dip unheard of. The most frequented and famous destinations like Italy, Spain, France and Germany have adopted lockdowns and have sealed their borders considering the COVID-19 crisis. Besides leisurely travel, business travel too has been acutely hampered. A number of conferences, meetings and industry events have been called off like Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, the biggest event for the Cellular Phone Industry, Geneva’s Annual Motor Show, Facebook’s ‘F8 Conference’ and quite ironically, the ITB Berlin, a trade summit centring the travel industry. All such cancelled or held off events, were reckoning to bring a footfall of over 2,00,000 people, and, are quite telling as to what impact the Corona upsurge has had on the travel industry.

In light of the current conditions, major businesses and corporate houses too, are discouraging their employees from any non-essential transit. A survey by the Global Business Travel Association reveals that out of 400 businesses having an extensive global presence, more than half have either repealed or postponed business-related travel outside their country while simultaneously reducing inland travel. These halting business operations have resulted in a total of 37% of business travel lost and about 15% more, at the risk of being lost.

Thus far, no deep job cuts have been noticed across the travel industry, but it seems only inevitable that if Corona remains a globally active pandemic for a significant frame of time, millions might lose their jobs. Unfortunately, many of the lower-income workers like agents, waiters, housekeeping staff and inland commutation providers, are already painfully aware of this fact. They are already making cutbacks and the same is being reflected in their spending. This has had a severe negative ramification on the global market which has already lost a behemothic 1 trillion Dollars as a result of the snowball effect.

If the situation worsens the loss incurred by the travel sector could even spark a global recession sending ripples through the broader economy. The spiral of negatives is already discernable as financial markets all across the world have acutely crashed culminating wealth destruction, supply chains too have been globally disrupted and most importantly, oil prices have hit a new low due to reduced consumption and further production. This chain of events is a faint indicator of what could happen if COVID-19 is not reined in timely.