The ongoing pandemic provides the perfect example of a disruptive scenario that has confounded the forecasts of even the smartest analysts and consultants. In this new blog hot on the heels of World Tourism Day (27th September), colleagues from tourism consultants Voltere by Egis and our aviation business pose key questions for both the travel and aviation industries to consider in their post-pandemic planning.

The tourism sector in 2020 was plunged into the worst recession in its history, with closed borders, lockdowns, curfews, medicine shortages and grounded planes all contributing to the disruption. According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), annual accounts are expected to be short by one billion international tourists in a sector that was previously growing at 5% annually and regarded itself as the leading industry of the coming century.

Losses in the aviation industry have also been enormous. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) by Spring 2021 airlines alone incurred losses of $118 billion worldwide as a result of the pandemic, in addition to the negative impact on airports, air navigation service providers and other key aviation suppliers.

Global economies need both industries to recover

The revival of air travel is essential to the recoveries of international tourism and the economies of many nations. The aeroplane is an irreplaceable mode of transport for long-haul destinations and it plays a central role in the development of tourism, especially in destinations that are landlocked or far from the main outbound markets. Aviation also brings economic benefits to diverse local communities, including in remote areas, by providing not only jobs but also greater access to food, medical supplies, general cargo and humanitarian support. International tourism in 2019 accounted for 10.4 per cent of world GDP, most of which was facilitated by air travel, and the good news for both industries is that demand now appears likely to bounce back post-pandemic. According to a recent survey by IATA, 76 per cent of people want to travel by air to see family and friends as soon as possible.

QUESTION: HOW CAN THE RECOVERIES OF TOURISM AND AVIATION BE COMBINED TO SUPPORT JOBS, INCOMES AND LIFESTYLES WHILE TARGETING NET ZERO?

Environmental challenges must be met

Tourism and air transport bring many economic and community benefits, but are also a contributor to global CO2 emissions and are therefore perceived by some as being unsustainable. The phenomenon of flight shaming or “flygskam”, initially a marginal movement led by youth communities in Europe, has grown more widespread even as the global demand for flying begins to recover. Perhaps more significantly, sustainability policies for aviation are increasingly being discussed at both national and regional levels. For example, the EU’s “Fit for 55” climate legislation includes plans to mandate targets for sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) and effectively to end aviation’s current fuel tax exemption. In response to such pressures, the industry is increasingly focusing on an ecological transition to involve the introduction of widespread use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), all-electric aircraft for regional hops and, eventually, hydrogen-powered aircraft.

These and related issues were discussed and summarised by our colleague William McMaster in his recent Sustainable Aviation White Paper.

QUESTION: TO WHAT EXTENT WILL ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS IMPACT THE GLOBAL DEMAND FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL AS BORDERS CONTINUE TO REOPEN?

Coherent and integrated development

Accessibility between airports and city centres is also an essential factor for the environmental sustainability of aviation-enabled tourism. ICAO wrote about this in its recent blog introducing a new online tool that illustrates the fraction of a state’s population who live within a 100 km radius from an aerodrome. An airport that is well connected to local tourist attractions (Madrid is a good example) will encourage travellers to visit during a stopover, but if reaching the city centre is difficult, inconvenient or expensive then new tourists are likely to be deterred from visiting.  Reliable, fast and efficient transport can be used to make the airport feel like an extension of the city, and public authorities are increasingly rethinking urban planning to do this by incorporating more sustainable modes of mobility. Doing so effectively requires coherent and integrated tourism development policies.

QUESTION: HOW CAN WE FAST-TRACK SUSTAINABLE MULTI-MODAL TRANSPORT OPTIONS FOR AIRPORT VISITORS?

Passenger experience, post-pandemic

Airport accessibility is also strongly linked to the passenger experience. Airports in the 21st century aspire to be welcoming and calming spaces which enhance the tranquility of a journey, with seamless border and security checks. COVID-19 restrictions and precautions have added a new layer of difficulty, raising fears of increased controls and longer wait times. Smoother access to an airport, a layout designed for visitor wellbeing and an appropriate range of wellness and cultural services in the terminal all help to create a stress-free experience and should be considered an integral part of the trip.

The idea of a fast and seamless passenger experience is a major challenge that many airports still need to address. This can be achieved, even in mature airports, with the help of the latest modelling tools and techniques to guide effective investment. With a greenfield facility, the optimal passenger experience can be designed from scratch.

QUESTION: HOW CAN WE IMPROVE PASSENGER EXPERIENCE WHILST COMPLYING WITH CHANGING REGULATIONS?

Airport cities: brownfield and greenfield

A sustainable city should promote economic growth and meet the basic needs of its inhabitants, while creating sustainable living conditions for all. Most cities today are struggling with environmental degradation, traffic congestion and inadequate urban infrastructure, in addition to a lack of basic services such as water supply, sanitation and waste management[1]. Historic cities around the world are responding by reimagining brownfield sites, managing waste, repurposing city spaces, taxing polluters and effectively reinventing their metropolis step by step, as evidenced in this Egis White Paper.

For some regions of the world however, greenfield solutions make both environmental and economic sense. The design and construction of new greenfield infrastructure offers opportunities to integrate cutting-edge environmental technology, from the ground up. While existing airports seek to reduce their carbon footprint by optimising existing equipment and operations, new projects can for example use sustainable materials in their architecture, limit and control energy consumption in LEED-certified buildings, establish renewable energy sources and install land-based carbon sequestration schemes.

The African continent in particular includes many greenfield projects for new districts and cities around airports that are located on the outskirts of city centres. Current examples include Aéropôle in Casablanca, Aérocité in Abidjan, Aérocité Nairobi and Airport City in Accra. These developments offer modern, accessible infrastructure and employment opportunities to residential districts on the outskirts of cities, some of them in areas inhabited by more marginalised or under-served populations, and also help to decongest hyper-frequented city centres. A systematic approach to infrastructure development is essential for designing such facilities in an integrated way, as new “nerve centres” served by green and smart transport systems.

QUESTION: HOW CAN YOUR CITY BEST ACCOMMODATE BOTH RESIDENTS AND TOURISTS MORE SUSTAINABLY?

Preparing for multiple possibilities

Faced with ongoing uncertainty the travel industry needs to answer some challenging questions and plan for multiple scenarios in the next 10 to 15 years. Such future scenarios need to be carefully considered, crafted and combined in order to guide the best value for investment.

Here are two possibilities to inspire your own thoughts on it:

SCENARIO A – ACCELERATE & ADAPT

  • Climate change impacts tourism, as sea levels rise and extreme weather events force industries to adapt.
  • New waves of health pandemics also proliferate.
  • H2-powered aircraft defy historical aviation timelines, by getting regulatory approval within 10 years.

SCENARIO B – CONSOLIDATE & RESTRUCTURE

  • Strong national and international policy imposes significant tax levies on frequent fliers and carbon-emitting businesses.
  • Pandemic measures prove successful in the long-term, especially in developed countries.
  • Hydrogen-powered flights not on track to become widespread until well after 2050.

The way forward

The Tourism and Aviation industries are irrevocably intertwined at a global level, with the health of each depending strongly on the other. Both are exposed to and affected by common influences in a world whose populations will continue to respond to unprecedented future change in unpredictable ways.

In the face of such uncertainty, both industries need to put in place solid, multi-scenario anticipation strategies to flexibly adapt to the future and ensure their environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Egis is working with cities, regions, airports and states around the world – helping them to develop such strategies and realise their ambitions, responsibly.


[1] Environment, U. N. (2018-01-23). “Sustainable Cities”. UNEP – UN Environment Programme. Retrieved 2020-09-22.

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