Collapse in flight bookings from APAC to Europe as Covid-19 spreads in Italy

The outbreak of the Covid-19 virus in Italy during the final week of February has triggered a wave of cancellations to Italy and a collapse in new bookings to Europe from intercontinental source markets, according to a report by ForwardKeys, which is commissioned by European Cities Marketing (ECM).

From the moment China imposed restrictions on outbound travel, in the week of January 20, until February 22, when the outbreak of Covid-19 cases in northern Italy began, bookings to Europe from intercontinental source markets had decreased by 23.7%.

Flight bookings to Europe plummeted by 79% in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak in Italy

However, in the final week of February, the situation worsened considerably, as the number of new bookings to Italy was suddenly outpaced by the cancellation of existing bookings. The impact on travel was not confined to Italy; simultaneously, the overall number of new flight bookings to Europe fell by 79%.

The first Covid-19 case confirmed in Italy occurred on January 31, 2020, when two Chinese tourists tested positive in Rome. It led to an immediate dip in bookings to Italy. Bookings swiftly reverted to trend after few new cases were reported there in the following three weeks.

However, everything changed almost immediately after a cluster of cases was detected in Lombardy on February 21 – and Italy’s first deaths were reported the following day.

Since then, the number of cases in Italy has grown exponentially to over a thousand; and, as rapidly as they have increased, flight bookings to Italy have decreased. Bookings to Italy, in the final week of February, fell by 138.7%, meaning that the number of cancellations exceeded the number of new bookings.

An analysis of Europe’s various source markets showed a double-digit decline in bookings in the final week of February from every major region of the world.

Bookings from the Asia-Pacific region fell by 114.2% (cancellations exceeding new bookings), followed by the Americas which fell by 68.1%, and Africa & the Middle East, which fell by 49.9%.

Breaking the global origin markets down into sub-regions, in order of least to worst affected, revealed that bookings from North Africa decreased by 30.4%; from Sub Saharan Africa, by 33.3%; from Central America, by 63.6%; from North America, by 63.7%; from Middle East, by 66.1%; from the Caribbean, by 66.5%; from Oceania, by 81.5%; from South Asia, by 85.9%; from South America, by 87.1%; from South-east Asia by 133.2%; and from North East Asia, by 133.5%.

Whilst the analysis of bookings reveals people’s travel plans, the analysis of arrivals reveals how many have actually travelled. Looking back over the first two months of the year, from January 1 to February 29, visitor arrivals in Europe have shown a two-phased decline owing to the Covid-19 crisis.

Initially, intercontinental visits to Europe tracked collectively 1.3% above 2019 levels in the period from the start of the year to January 28. The first phase of decline in Europe began on January 29 – nine days after the beginning of the crisis in China – when European destinations started to suffer, and arrivals decreased by 17.6% from January 29 to February 23.

Phase 2 began with the sharp slump in visits which happened in tandem with the explosion of Covid-19 cases in northern Italy. In Phase 2, arrivals in Europe collapsed by 25.9% between February 24 and 29 alone, leaving the year-to-date results 10.5% below the same period last year.

Olivier Ponti, vice president insights, ForwardKeys said: “The arrival of the Covid-19 virus in Italy marks a new phase in the travel crisis in Europe. The drop-off in bookings to Italy is even worse than we have observed in the past for some of the most disruptive events such as terror attacks. The booking behaviour appears to be disproportionate, as parts of Europe other than Italy are experiencing very substantial declines in visitor interest.”

Petra Stušek, president, European Cities Marketing, concluded: “When it comes to tourism, we should bear in mind that the more people travel within Europe, the more stable the travel economy will be. It is important to stay calm, not to overreact and work to keep ourselves and our communities safe, but also functioning, until the recovery.”

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