Dubai International Airport reported a 70% slump in traffic last year as restrictions in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic put the air travel industry into a tailspin.
The number of travelers through the Middle East’s tourism hub fell to 25.9 million in 2020, according to a statement. That included 17.8 million passengers during the first quarter of the year, before the pandemic started to impact travel.
Since then, restrictions on air travel have battered airlines and airports around the world. “For the first time in the 60-year history of the world’s busiest international airport, the month of April saw commercial flights come to almost an entire halt,” the airport said.
Despite the drop in traffic, Dubai International Airport is the largest intercontinental hub in the world, Chief Executive Paul Griffiths said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Monday. “There’s no reason to suggest why we won’t continue to be able to hold that crown going forward.”
The number of passengers handled by Dubai International last year surpassed those reported by London’s Heathrow airport, where the number dropped about 73% to 22.1 million in 2020. Frankfurt airport, one of Heathrow’s biggest rivals, posted an 81% drop in passenger numbers last month.
While most governments kept borders shut for big chunks of last year, Dubai -- which relies on international tourism for nearly a third of its gross domestic product -- reopened in July. Average customer traffic peaked at 1.3 million in the third and fourth quarters.
Opening up is crucial for Dubai International Airport, the busiest airport by international traffic before the pandemic, as it relies heavily on connecting passengers around the globe.
“I don’t think that model will change,” Griffiths said. “We just need to get more confidence around the world in travel being possible between countries that have made good progress in protecting their own populations.”
Many countries plan to open their borders to people who can show a negative Covid test taken shortly before flying. Some, like Israel, are also proposing vaccination certificates as an enabler for the movement of people between countries.
With most of its population soon to be inoculated against Covid-19, Israel is making deals that would let its citizens visit Greece and a handful of other tourist-hungry countries. The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, has administered 47 doses per 100 people so far.