China’s tougher border measures and Japan's cautious approach towards relaxation of inbound travel restrictions could displace Asia-Pacific as the world's largest air passenger market this year, reports Airports Council International (ACI).

The region – which regularly topped the rankings prior to the pandemic – is forecast to finish second behind Europe in terms of passenger share, and at a comparable level with North America.

The latest ACI Asia-Pacific forecast indicates that by the end of 2022, passenger traffic will only recover by about 55% as compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is in stark contrast to other regions where recovery is expected to be substantially higher at between 70 and 80%.

According to the trade body, in 2019, 3.38 billion passengers travelled by air in the region, representing 37% of the global volume of 9.16 billion.

In 2021, 1.50 billion people travelled by air in Asia-Pacific, experiencing a slight decline by -4% versus 2020, but was still the leading region accounting for 33% of 4.6 billion global passengers. Source ACI

The following year, the region witnessed only 1.57 billion travellers, an unprecedented 53% cut in traffic owing to pandemic-induced restrictions across the globe.

Stefano Baronci, director general of ACI Asia-Pacific, commented: “The traffic in the region will not be able to fully recover to 2019 levels unless all countries keep their borders open to facilitate freedom of movement. China and Japan – one of the largest contributors to the region’s overall traffic – have been slow in lifting travel and COVID restrictions.

“We are urging states to take a measured approach to facilitate the recovery in a more sustainable manner and without causing significant impact on their healthcare system. Accelerating the recovery will need a whole of industry and government support, especially in view of an increasingly challenging macroeconomic scenario.”

ACI Asia-Pacific has written a letter, co-signed by ACI World and World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), urging the prime minister of Japan to remove all travel restrictions.

“There are positive signs emerging from Japan where the Government is considering on lifting of daily arrival caps to spur tourism to revive their economy, and it will benefit the industry to a greater extent. We hope to see positive outcome in the very near future,” Baronci added.