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Travel is back! Holidays are up 25% on pre-pandemic levels and business trips are once again racking up the air miles

May 19, 2022, 4:15 PM UTC

Leisure and business flights are set to return in full swing this year after more than two years of painful travel restrictions, with 1.5 billion more passengers expected to take a trip this year compared to 2021.

The number of flyers is even beginning to surpass pre-pandemic levels, according to Mastercard Economics Institute’s “Travel 2022: Trends & Transitions” report, which found that global flight bookings for leisure soared 25% above 2019 levels for the month of April.

This is backed by a large growth in bookings of short to medium-haul flights, with long-haul trailing just behind.

Having started the year 75% lower than pre-pandemic levels, a surge in international long-haul flight bookings has brought the number “just shy” of 2019 levels in less than three months.  

The report found business flyers—which make an outsized proportion of airline revenues—are also returning to the skies, with business flight bookings exceeding 2019 levels by the end of March.

This is a marked difference from the start of the year when business flyers were only booking flights at half pre-pandemic levels.

A lot of the bookings are also borne out of pent-up demand.

After COVID-19 brought travel to a halt, 54% of respondents of a Mastercard Proprietary Study of 2,250 flyers said they were looking forward to a big “make up” trip after two years of being grounded.

Europe leading the great getaway

Out of all the markets, Europe is flying the most with 550 million more flights booked when compared to the year before.

The United Kingdom topped the ranking as the most preferred destination, shortly followed by Spain.

In the North American region, Mexico topped the list, with other beach holiday destinations like Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica also making it in the top 10 travel destinations in March 2022.

“Not surprisingly, people chose their travel destinations based on their mobility restrictions,” the report said.

The increase in flights also brings in more spending on touristic “experiences,” the report found, noting money spent on experiencing has outpaced spending on “things” since July 2021.

International tourists spending at bars and nightclubs is 72% above 2019 levels, while spending at restaurants is 31% above.

Tourists are also going to amusement parks, museums, concerts, and other recreational activities 35% more than in 2019, while spending on apparel, department stores, cosmetics, and other retail categories is down compared to pre-pandemic levels.

But the report warned that there are headwinds ahead, like rising inflation, the higher cost of flying, market instability, geopolitical problems in Europe and Asia, and rising COVID-19 rates, all of which threaten to derail airline’s growth projection.  

“If there’s one thing that we learned from 2020, reality can change course quickly. A new virus strain, geopolitical instability or another unanticipated event could quickly halt the recovery,” the report concluded.

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