In January 2022 we rebranded the Skift Recovery Index into the Skift Travel Health Index, to better represent our desire to track the travel industry’s performance beyond the impact of Covid-19. This archived report might still make reference to the Skift Recovery Index.
This report highlights the latest insights from the Skift Recovery Index. The index covers travel’s performance since January 2020, up to and including April 2021.
The Skift Recovery Index is a real-time measure of where the travel industry at large — and the core verticals within it — stands in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides the travel industry with a powerful tool for strategic planning, of utmost importance in this uncertain business climate.
We are very happy to announce that we have entered into a data partnership with ForwardKeys, providing the Recovery Index with additional insights, and a strengthening of data on flight bookings and air passenger volumes.
We also continue to work with Amadeus, Aviasales, Cendyn, Collinson, Criteo, Duetto, Hotelbeds, Key Data Dashboard, OAG, Onyx CenterSource, RateGain, Shiji Group, SimilarWeb, Skyscanner, Sojern, Transparent, and TrustYou as data partners to provide you with a monthly update of travel performance in 22 countries around the world.
Travel Recovery Increasingly Divergent
The recovery is not linear, and far from congruent. We’ve been saying it from early on in the pandemic, but it is really playing out in front of our eyes now. While the average global score took another jump up, now standing at an average of 58 points in April 2021, compared to a baseline of 100 in April 2019, there is major inconsistency in the recovery between the 22 countries we track.
The clearest way to show this is by looking at the average scores of the top 5 countries each month, compared to the average scores of the bottom 5 performers. A year ago, in April 2020, the difference between these two groups of countries was 9 points. One year on, in April 2021, there is a 50 point difference.
China Is Class Apart
Nowhere in the world is the difference between strong and weak performing countries as obvious as in Asia. China is benefitting from a strong domestic market, and registered 102 million domestic trips during the Qingming Festival in early April. This was 145% up from 2020, and close to 95% of 2019 performance. According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, domestic travel revenues were up 229% year over year. And May is shaping up to be another bumper month, with over 230 million domestic trips taken by Chinese travelers for the May Day holidays at the start of May.
This is in stark contrast with other Asian countries, where travel recovery has been far more conservative. Small flare-ups of new Covid cases are wreaking havoc in Asian countries that have been able to contain the virus for so long.
As our colleague Raini Hamdi notes: “The continent that sealed up borders, introduced lockdowns, quarantines and curfews, and mandated mask-wearing, social distancing and contact tracing, faces a conundrum. Are these measures, which made Asia a hero of zero Covid, backfiring and turning the region into a lost or hermetically sealed kingdom?”
Two countries performing particularly poorly in April were Thailand and India. Thailand, named as an exemplary country for its containment of Covid by the World Health Organization last year, saw average daily new cases increase from 91 in March, to 1,200 in April. The country has increased quarantine rules from seven to 14 days for incoming travelers, effectively cutting off any possibility of a quick resurgence in international travel for now.
India needs little discussion, at present battling the worst outbreak of any country in the world. Average daily new cases were as high as 230,000 in April, and there are real questions on whether this second wave will cripple the travel industry so much that many companies won’t be able to survive and benefit from the recovery which will ultimately come.
Japan is also having to make tough decisions, announcing a state of emergency in April with cases increasing, vaccination rates extremely low, and increasing calls from home and abroad for the Olympic Games, slated to take place in Tokyo at the end of July, to be cancelled or postponed again.
Western Nations Upbeat But Policies Differ
So while the East is choked, the West is seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but here also the political decisions made are weighing heavily on travel’s recovery.
In North America, if we focus on the USMCA (formerly NAFTA) countries — Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. — we can see a major difference in policies around lockdowns and vaccinations, which affects the recovery of the travel industry.
The differences between these countries really shows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and each country is making it up as the pandemic moves along. Vaccination rates are highest in the U.S., benefitting the travel recovery, but at the same time infection rates have been highest in the U.S. for some time, only being surpassed by Canada in April 2021.
Vaccination rates are much lower in Mexico and Canada. Mexico, however, has had lower infection rates, and a much more open border policy than Canada, which has closed all international borders as well as most internal province borders. Ontario, for example, has extended its lockdown until June, with mandatory 14-day self-isolation or hotel quarantine for arrivals from outside the province.
Mexico has seen the benefits of its open policy, breaking through the 90 point barrier in the recovery index this month, meaning that travel performance levels are back to 92% of pre-pandemic levels. The U.S. travel industry also remains upbeat, and recovery now stands at 80% of pre-pandemic levels. However, the strong performance of March has already started to subside. It will be hard for the U.S. to climb up those last 20 percentage points, with still relatively high new cases, a slowdown in vaccination rates, and a continuing lack of international travel.
We are seeing the same in Europe, where the UK was the standout performer in March but could not continue this strong upward trend in April. With the country taking steps to end its national lockdowns, the urge to travel is high, but national borders remained shut in April. On May 17 international travel became allowed to a very select list of countries. We will see if the UK’s travel industry benefits from this in our May highlights report.
If we compare March to April, then, it’s like the Sunday after a big Saturday night celebration. There is still some elation about the great night that was, but normality is kicking in (and for some a pretty bad headache as well).
If we continue with the party analogy, we could say that Europe was never even invited. Europe is by far the worst performing region globally, and major tourism markets like France and Germany saw their scores decline further in April.
Turkey saw cases increase rapidly in April, with shortages of vaccines exacerbating the situation. The country entered lockdown in April to try and stall the upward infection rates. All this comes at a bad time, as tourism businesses would have started to prepare for what they were hoping could be a bumper summer.
Flight Demand Remains Weak, Our Coverage of it Strengthens
Aviation remained the weakest travel sector in April, with only a small uptick from 34 points to 35 points, compared to a 100-point baseline in 2019. This compares to the lodging industry, which held on to its relative strength in April, and scored 53 points, the same as in March.
While the aviation industry continues to see weak performance, we are happy to announce that our coverage of it has strengthened considerably with the addition of ForwardKeys data on flight bookings and passenger volumes. This will allow us to track the recovery with even more certainty.
Data from ForwardKeys and our other data partners shows that search levels in all countries remain suppressed, indicating that people searching for flights have a more targeted approach, with less desire for exploration or discovery.
Mexico saw the highest levels of flight searches, and also saw an increase in air arrivals, topping 65% of pre-pandemic levels by April.
Australia, an overall strong performer, saw passenger volumes increase significantly in April, and this rise is likely to continue as new bookings were up to pre-pandemic levels in April. The country opened up a travel bubble with neighboring New Zealand, which significantly increased demand.
South Africa is another standout performer. It’s still seeing low levels of arrivals and new bookings, but searches are high and all flight indicators showed improvement between March and April. The country opened its international borders at the end of 2020, and eased lockdown restrictions at the end of February, but with the South African Covid variant, many countries continue to ban flights to and from the country. Much of this uptick will therefore come from domestic travel picking up.
While passenger traffic and new bookings declined in Russia, flight searches continued to increase slightly, and the country continues to be one of the strongest performers overall in our Index.
We would like to thank the following partners who are collaborating with Skift Research by providing their data which shapes the Skift Recovery Index.
Amadeus is a global travel technology leader that delivers the most trusted, critical systems across the travel industry to airlines, airports, hotels, travel agents, and car rental and railway providers. Amadeus is providing insight on travel search trends and behavior for the Skift Recovery Index.
Aviasales was launched as a blog on bargain air tickets in 2007 and grew out to become the world’s biggest independent travel search. Aviasales serves 20 million monthly active users from Eastern Europe & Central Asia, and provides flight and hotel booking data for Russian travelers for the index.
Cendyn’s software solutions drive sales, marketing, and revenue performance for tens of thousands of hotels across the globe with a focus on integrated hotel CRM, hotel sales, and revenue strategy technology platforms. The company provides data on hotel email campaigns for the index.
Collinson is a global travel services business, creating traveler experiences, loyalty strategy and programs, travel insurance, and travel and medical assistance. Priority Pass is operated by Collinson and provides frequent travelers access to over 1,300 lounges, with Collinson providing aggregated customer lounge visit data for the index.
Criteo is a global technology company powering the world’s marketers with trusted and impactful advertising. The company provides indexed data from various OTA, airline, and car rental partners. Criteo provides data for airline and car rental web traffic and sales.
Duetto delivers a suite of cloud applications to simplify hospitality revenue decisions and allow hoteliers to work smarter, increasing organizational efficiency, revenue, and profitability. More than 4,000 hotel and casino resort properties in more than 60 countries have partnered to use Duetto’s applications. Duetto provides hotel bookings and cancellations data.
ForwardKeys analyzes more than 17 million flight booking transactions each day, drawing data from all the major global air reservation systems, and selected airlines and tour operators. ForwardKeys is providing flight booking and passenger volumes data.
Hotelbeds provides over 180,000 hotels across the globe with access to high-value, complementary distribution channels that do not compete with the hotelier’s direct distribution strategy. The company provides data on hotel bookings and source market performance.
Key Data Dashboard is a provider of real-time, direct-source vacation rental data for the short-term rental sector, aggregating data sourced directly from more than 30+ reservation systems of 700+ professional property managers around the world. Key Data provides bookings, RevPAR and cancellations data for the Skift Recovery Index.
OAG collects and analyzes data about every journey, every booking, every take-off and landing, departure, and delay, totalling over 110,000 flights, 100,000 schedule changes daily and over 4 million flight status updates. OAG provides flight capacity data for the Skift Recovery Index.
Onyx CenterSource is a leading global provider of business-to-business payments and business intelligence solutions to the hospitality industry. With a legacy dating to 1992, the company facilitates in excess of $2.1 billion in payments annually, and partners with more than 150,000 hotel properties. The company provides hotel stay, cancellations, and commission data.
RateGain helps travel and hospitality companies with cognitive revenue management, smart e-distribution, and brand engagement. RateGain supports over 250,000 hotel properties globally by providing 240 billion rate and availability updates, and powering over 30 million bookings. For the Index, RateGain provides hotel bookings and cancellation data.
Shiji Group provides software solutions and services for the hospitality, food service, retail, and entertainment industries, serving over 74,000 hotels, 200,000 restaurants and 600,000 retail outlets across the world. Shiji Group provides China hotel bookings and room night data for the Skift Recovery Index.
SimilarWeb gathers digital data from multiple sources, including first-party direct measurement, public data sources, anonymous behavioral data, and external partners. For the Index, SimilarWeb provides unique visitor data to the top 10 travel websites per country.
Skyscanner has 100 million peak monthly active users, over 100 million app downloads, and more than 1,200 partners across flights, hotels, car rental, and more. Skyscanner’s Travel Insight product helps companies guide their COVID-19 recovery plans, and the company contributes flight search data from Travel Insight for the Skift Recovery Index.
Sojern provides digital marketing solutions for the travel industry, helping to drive direct demand for more than 10,000 hotels, attractions, tourism boards, and travel marketers. Sojern contributes flight and hotel search data for the Skift Recovery Index.
Transparent provides business intelligence serving the vacation rental industry, including insights around supply growth, demand patterns, rate changes, and property manager activities. Transparent contributes occupancy and bookings data for the Skift Recovery Index. The company draws on data from the 34 million vacation rental listings they track worldwide, in every geography.
TrustYou provides a guest feedback platform that makes listening to customers easy, powerful, and actionable. In response to the current crisis, TrustYou has put together a Travel Health Index, using hotel reviews managed through its platform as a proxy for hotel occupancy. TrustYou’s Travel Health Index is integrated in the Skift Recovery Index.