IATA chief says Travel Sector set to bounce back again

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In a recent interview, the head of the international airline industry body IATA blamed overly risk-averse governments for prolonging the COVID-19 crisis for the travel industry but said he expected things to look up after the summer.

The former IAG boss and IATA director general, Willie Walsh, sees positive data on vaccine effectiveness as a reason for governments to lift restrictions.

“There is some good evidence there to be optimistic that, going into the second half of this year, we will see a better environment that will allow more people to travel,” he told Reuters yesterday.

Most international air travel remains depressed almost 18 months into the pandemic because of continuing restrictions.

Walsh, who took the top job at IATA in April, said that governments were being too risk-averse and needed to change rules to reflect data showing that vaccinated travel or travel with testing poses little risk to a country’s infection rate.

“The crisis in the airline industry, which was initially caused by a health pandemic, is now really a crisis caused by restrictions being imposed by the government,” Walsh said.

He singled out Britain in particular, citing rules that require people entering the UK from nearly all countries to take at least two coronavirus tests and enter quarantine. Walsh also hit out at what he said was “incredible farcical confusion” created by mixed political messages on travel.

Many countries on Britain’s “amber list” for medium-risk travel have very, very low transmission rates, said Walsh.

“If I was vaccinated, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly to these countries,” he said of places such as the US, Spain, France and Italy, which were top destinations for Britons before the pandemic.

Britain said its cautious approach to the return of international travel was designed to prioritise public health.

“Country classification … is guided by the evidence and analysis of a range of key factors, including rates of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing,” a Department for Transport spokesman said.

Britain and the US both have high vaccination levels, which Walsh said gave him confidence that a travel corridor could be opened between the countries in June.

“I think there’s a good reason to be optimistic that we should be able to see the UK and US open transatlantic flying again,” he said.

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