Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports
Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai International (DXB) has raised its 2022 passenger forecasts from the current 57 million as governments worldwide lift COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths.

The aviation industry head also said that a return to pre-COVID levels of passenger numbers will happen in 2024 compared to the earlier projection of 2025. “We’ll quite confidently assume that we’ll get back there rather quicker than we originally thought,” said Griffiths. “I’m hoping that we’ll get back sooner but I think we have to be a little bit cautious in our optimism to see whether the current trend is maintained.”

Opening at speed

DXB and UAE’s airlines have benefited from the reopening of international borders. “Governments have got more decisive and informed about how to manage the virus and everyone is now understanding what they need to do,” said Griffiths. “Vaccination rates have been rising all the time and UAE, UK, (and) a lot of our major markets now have a predominance of vaccinated travelers. A combination of all of those things has given people the confidence to start to plan their travel again.”

With the weather getting cooler in North Europe, passengers were flocking to Dubai in “greater numbers than ever before”. “We’ve got the Air Show, Expo 2020, and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE - so great reasons to be here.”

On Monday, Dubai Airports raised its passenger forecast for DXB by 2 million passengers to 28.7 million in 2021. DXB witnessed more than 20 million passengers between January to the end of October after experiencing a 20 per cent surge last month as crucial markets such as the UK and India opened up.

“Europe’s long been open because they’ve been quite advanced with the vaccine and their measures to control the spread. Russia has been open and Africa is now starting to open up,” said Griffiths. “The US opening up to Europe has been a major milestone, and we’re starting to see crucial travel flows like India-US starting to come back.”

Fourth-wave concerns

Parts of Europe are facing a fourth wave of the virus, which could potentially dampen aviation sector recovery. “We’re probably through the worst now and people are much more confident about the risks of travel,” said Griffiths.

More than a fourth wave, the Dubai Airports head is concerned about the return of Far East markets. “The shadow on the planet at the moment remains Asia and Australasia - Australia and New Zealand - where clearly their original strategy of locking down and trying to avoid the virus hasn’t really worked,” said Griffiths. “Those are the major markets that we are really dependent on to see a full recovery of our entire traffic.”