Source: Curacao International Airport
The recovery of commercial passenger traffic continued gradually during the fourth and final quarter of 2020. The borders for the Dutch Caribbean were reopened for commercial passenger traffic and a pilot program for air service from the USA was launched, reopening the borders to four specific states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida. The borders remained closed for the remaining states, Colombia, and Panama. Towards the middle of the quarter, air travel recovery experienced new delays due to the resurgence of the virus in many parts of the world including Curaçao.
In October, November and December 2020, International Departing Traffic, remained driven by The Netherlands. Passenger traffic in October increased by +28% over September, in November traffic decreased by -12% compared to October and in December traffic increased by +18% over November. The average load factor remained strong in October at 74%, November 75%, but sharply decreased in December to 60%. Traffic recovery compared to 2019 was 26% in October; 31% in November and 30% in December.
The resurgence of the virus within the Dutch Caribbean caused inter island connectivity to be negatively impacted. By December 2020, Dutch Caribbean passenger traffic increased by +23% compared to November 2020. Most local airline partners restarted service with aggressive daily schedules reaching an average load factor of 73% and a recovery of traffic compared to December 2019 of 24%.
According to the UNWTO, United Nations World Tourism Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic took international tourism back to the levels of 30 years ago. The main factors weighing on the recovery of international tourism are travel restrictions, slow virus containment and low consumer confidence. In addition, IATA, International Air Transport Association, latest economic report indicates the resurgence of the virus and associated restrictions weighed on air travel recovery progress across many domestic and international markets. Europe remained the most severely impacted region due to strict containment measures.
The volatility of traffic was evident as Curaçao experienced a severe impact on passenger traffic in December 2020 with the announcement of a lockdown in The Netherlands, underscored by an urgent advice by the Dutch Government to not travel unless urgent and unavoidable. This caused a significant reduction in additional flights from KLM and TUI over the holidays.
2020 was an unprecedented year with consequences that will take years to recover from. With the paced reopening of the borders for commercial passenger traffic as of summer of 2020, most of our valued airline partners were committed to resume service and have done so albeit not at pre-COVID scheduled levels, but they returned.
As the new reality forced our airport operations to adapt to international demand for standardization of health and safety requirements, Curaçao International Airport was certified by ACI, Airport Council International, accrediting the alignment of the airport’s health measures with the ACI Aviation Business Restart and Recovery guidelines and ICAO Council Aviation Restart Task Force recommendations along with industry best practices. CAP adapted airport marketing and messaging towards passengers being one of ‘peace of mind’, clear communication of health and safety practices, minimal physical touch points and cleanliness throughout the facilities.
In 2020, Curaçao International Airport reached 548,000 total passenger movements. The passenger movements were -64% below the initial 2020 forecast and -62% below the total movements of 2019. Airport Council International (ACI) indicated that the losses in passenger movements by airports in 2020 are -60% for North American and -61% for South American and Caribbean airports. The recovery of passenger traffic in 2020 was 38% compared to 2019 and the average overall load factor was 74%.
UNWTO indicates that most tourism experts do not expect international tourism to return to pre-COVID levels before 2023. Curaçao Airport Partners remains cautiously optimistic for 2021 – the year of transition in which the containment of the virus, the distribution of the vaccine, the resilience of the economy and the consumer confidence, will determine the pace of recovery. Retention of air service is extremely important as airlines remain in significant financial predicaments and need all routes to be sustainable and profitable.
“We look back at a year that was one of our most challenging ones, not only as the airport, but for the destination as a whole” said Paulo Mazzali, CAP co-CEO. “Notwithstanding the challenges, we took the opportunities our new reality provided to reinvent our way of doing business. We experienced significant financial losses, cut our costs to a minimum and are extremely proud of our team that through the difficult times remained collaborative, focused, and committed to providing peace of mind! With the full support from our workforce and from our shareholders, we remain cautiously optimistic for 2021 with a moderate growth over 2020, mostly occurring in the 2nd half of 2021”.