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Opinion: More expensive trips and longer holidays? The aviation industry is listening to Greta Thunberg at last



It’s been another tough week for the UK travel industry, with the prospect of foreign travel this summer slipping away following the government’s U-turn over allowing quarantine-free trips to Portugal.

However, there’s reason for optimism as travel starts to rebound post-pandemic. We have now reached a tipping point when it comes to sustainable travel, with the UK airlines taking pole position. Greta Thunberg warned of the urgent need for action, refused to travel by air and created a movement of “flight-shaming”. Then Covid-19 came along.

The pandemic caused a surge of self-reflection on personal life choices, business meetings began to take place exclusively online. A report released by Booking.com found that 53 per cent of global travellers wanted “to travel more sustainably in the future as Coronavirus has opened their eyes to humans’ impact on the environment.”

The hassle of PCR testing is likely to remain for some time, driving leisure travellers towards fewer, but longer trips. Over the last 12 months, the average trip doubled from four to nine days, and McKinsey is forecasting a 20 per cent long-term reduction in business travel.

The rise of “work from anywhere” and “bleisure” will blur the lines between business and leisure, leading to trips being combined. This trend towards longer travel means fewer emissions, as travellers prioritise more meaningful experiences, less crowded beach and nature destinations and visiting loved ones.

In my recent speech at Stanford, I also predicted that air fares will become more expensive. Even as leisure demand comes back strongly toward the end of the year, it will take airlines at least three years to build back up to where they were before the pandemic, given their investment backlog and weakened balance sheets.

For example, British Airways-owner IAG reported a $9bn los in 2020, and it may need to monetise its slot portfolio or frequent flyer program if the summer recovery stalls….

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