Restoring consumer confidence in air travel — Travel corridors

Adiel Mambara:Aviation expert

THIS article critically examines the current approaches to restoring consumer confidence and trust in air travel, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic that has impacted on air travel demand.

In series two, I will explore at a top level, the notion of different countries exploring special bilateral arrangements, with a view of establishing travel corridors, which allow unrestricted movement of people between countries with low levels of Covd-19 infection.

Travel corridors are also known as air bridges, green lanes, travel bubbles or travel zones.

So what are travel corridors? They are a proposed ways for allowing citizens to enter countries without needing to quarantine. Travel corridor agreements can be formed between two or more countries.

The primary aim of travel corridors is to allow countries to re-open their borders safely, based on international circles of trust. Often this involves agreeing on a number of defined reciprocal health protocols that need to be followed when citizens depart and enter any of the countries on the travel corridor list. This is often informed by factors that include the numbers of new Covid-19 cases and potential trajectory of the disease during a specified time.

Nevertheless, the strategy of travel corridors has not escaped criticism from governments, agencies and academics. Debate continues about the best strategies for the management of the travel corridors, however there are dangers that rather than reunite, these travel corridors will divide the world into countries that have handled the Covid-19 pandemic well from those who have struggled.

According to a report in the Economist, potential travel corridors among better-performing countries around the world would account for around 35% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) and creating these safe travel zones are crucial in ensuring a speedy global economic recovery and rebooting air travel.
Travel corridors are exemplified by work undertaken by a number of countries below:

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

As most Asian countries emerge from the ember of the initial ruins of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments in Asia still remain hesitant to remove border restrictions designed to protect their citizens from a second wave or even a third wave of the pandemic. There is still uncertainty on governments re-opening their borders to international flights, but the situation is expected to gradually improve, particularly with the introduction of ‘green lanes’ and ‘travel bubbles’.

The tourism industry in the ASEAN region was impacted early because of its proximity to China, where the virus broke out first, and its reliance on Chinese tourists for revenue. Tourism contributes billions of dollars annually to the ASEAN countries and as a first step towards opening their borders, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are considering introducing a conceptual framework based on ‘travel bubbles’ with green status regions. The initial thinking for the formation of travel bubbles is suggestive of how well these countries have contained the pandemic domestically.

Covid-19 is increasingly recognised as a serious, worldwide public health concern and some countries in the ASEAN bloc like Thailand have delayed plans for a ‘travel bubble’ agreement with selected countries , as new daily Covid cases increase in parts of Asia, further putting pressure on the tourism industry and convoluting efforts to resuscitate its crumbling economy.

Baltic travel bubble

The Baltic economies are expected to shrink by 8% this year because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic (BBC, 2020).

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuanian launched a travel bubble in May 2020, allowing free movement for citizens of the three countries without the need to quarantine, at a time when travel within the larger bloc remains restricted. Estonia and Lithuania have recently extended the list of countries from which they will except non-essential travel after the European Union announced its list of travel restriction-exempt countries.

South Korea — Taiwan travel bubble

There are currently ongoing discussions on a potential formation of a travel bubble between South Korea and Taiwan. Currently both countries have a business bubble and the success has wider relevance on the creation of a generic travel bubble.

Travellers wanting to enter the Baltic States from countries outside will need to self-isolate for 14 days. Travellers can have freedom of movement within the Baltic States, provided they have not travelled outside the three countries in the past 14 days and should not have come in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with Covid-19.

United Kingdom

The UK government has established a raft of new air bridges — expanding the range of countries (76) that UK Citizens can travel to without the need to quarantine when they return back to the UK.

A number of techniques have been devised by scientists that include using a traffic light system, with travel corridors granted to countries in the green and amber sections where the rate of Covid-19 infection is low.

Travel corridors play an important role in reducing the risk to the public health of UK citizens, according to the Department for Transport, however despite the safety and efficacy, travel corridors have suffered from several major drawbacks. Speculation has been mounting about quarantine exemptions being removed as infections rise across Europe. Recently the UK re-imposed quarantine on all travellers visiting or returning from Andorra, Bahamas, Belgium, France, and Spain.

There is a plausible argument presented by the UK Government that, there is no risk free way of travelling overseas and that the overriding priority is public safety and the need to continue to suppress the virus. However there is an urgent need to address the implications to airlines and tour operators who have suffered cosmic losses during the pandemic as a result of plummeting passenger numbers and sweeping global travel restrictions.

Government, airlines, Public Health England and all other relevant stakeholders must work collectively to think of a smarter set of quarantine measures at the airport. I suggested testing in my first article.

The evidence presented thus far supports the idea that governments continue to explore the prospects of creating reciprocal agreements in the hope of forming travel corridors with countries which have kept Covid-19 under control. However, volatility across the world with the record number of new Covid-19 cases has accentuated the problem of governments not being in a hurry to open their borders.

What remains clear, however, is that for travel corridors to work, governments, and private businesses must work in partnership to stimulate traveller demand in the safest way possible.

Zimbabwe-born Mambara has demonstrated history of working in the airlines/aviation industry is currently the Country Manager (UK and Ireland) for Royal Brunei Airlines. In addition, Mr. Mambara is a Board Member for the Board of Airlines Representatives UK (BARUK).