EU and GCC Aviation and Tourism: From a Historic Crisis towards a Sustainable Recovery

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the air travel and tourism industries into their deepest crises in history, with global passenger traffic currently expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024 at the earliest. This has a significant impact on the aviation and international tourism industry in the EU and the GCC given that these sectors are major employers and sources of economic income in both regions. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, Europe and the Middle East accounted for more than a third of global air passenger traffic and almost half of total earnings from inbound international tourism. Mid-2020 job loss estimates for the European and Middle Eastern travel and tourism industries stood at 14–30 million and 3–5 million respectively.

Factors influencing the future demand for aviation are largely not in the hands of the industry itself; they include the duration and severity of the pandemic, government decisions relating to safety measures, the depth of the global recession and shifts in travel behaviour by tourists and business travellers. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic also offers an opportunity to look at how the aviation and tourism sector can be restructured on a more sustainable path and in line with climate change mitigation strategies. This paper argues that going forward both the EU and GCC should align their Covid-19 recovery measures for the aviation and tourism sectors under two core targets: creating decent, sustainable jobs and aligning with the global climate goals.

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