Middle East passenger numbers are projected to reach 429 million in 2024, indicating a 5.4% rise over 2019 figures, despite global recovery falling shy of pre-COVID forecasts.
A report by the Airports Council International (ACI) has revealed 2024 will be a milestone year for recovery in air travel, with global passenger traffic expected to hit 9.4 billion, surpassing the pre-pandemic high of 9.2 billion passengers witnessed in 2019.
However, despite global recovery, the forecast still falls short of the pre-COVID projections that 10.9 billion passengers would travel in 2024, representing a loss of 13.9% in traffic directly correlating to the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, global passenger volume was estimated to reach 10.5 billion passengers in 2023. However, the current projections come in at 8.6 billion passengers, or 94.2% of the 2019 level. ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said all regions were expected to reach the pre-pandemic milestone by 2024. “Upside factors include the reopening of the Chinese market and surge in domestic travel, supply chain disruptions gradually subsiding, and inflation slowing down,” he added.
The Middle East was the fastest-recovering market in 2022, with 2023 expected to close with 394 million passengers or achieving 96.8% of the 2019 level. According to data shared by the airports trade association, the region saw passenger traffic peak to 107 million by the end of Q3 in 2023, with the last quarter of the year expected to see that number drop to 97 million passengers.
While passenger air traffic will rise in 2024 across the Middle East with the opening of new routes and greater connectivity led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, ACI remains cautious and said the 429 million forecast for 2024 could be impacted by economic circumstances witnessed in neighbouring markets.
The Africa region is expected to have a steadily increasing pattern for the upcoming years, reaching 221 million passengers, or 96.3% of the 2019 level, in 2023. The region is forecasted to reach 253 million passengers, or 110.6% of the 2019 level, by the end of 2024. This steady growth is expected to be driven by emerging markets, such as Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.
While the Asia-Pacific region saw a ‘substantial jump’ in passenger traffic in the first half of 2023, according to ACI, buoyed by the opening of the Chinese market, its recovery is predicted to slow down significantly in the second half of the year due to challenges in overseas tourism and looming economic concerns. By the end of the year, the region is expected to reach 2.9 billion passengers, or 87.3% of the 2019 level. With the uncertainty from both upside and downside factors, the region is expected to reach approximately 3.4 billion passengers, or 99.5% of the 2019 level, in 2024.
Recovery in Europe is expected to slow down 2023 and 2024 in contrast to the sharp uptick experienced during its 2022 summer season, with 2.5 billion passengers forecasted next year or 101.4% of 2019 level.
Meanwhile, North America is estimated to reach near the 2019 level with 2 billion passengers, or 99.8% of the 2019 level, by end of 2023. While the region showed strong recovery during 2021 and 2022, driven by domestic travel, its growth for the next couple of years is expected to continue at a slower pace with a forecast of 2.1 billion passengers in 2024.
(Reporting by Bindu Rai, editing by Seban Scaria)