At the most basic level, demand for air travel is stimulated by economic activity and economic and social linkages between countries and cities. Travel is also stimulated by economic linkages (i.e. international trade) and social linkages (i.e. international migration). In general, there will be greater demand for travel between countries that have larger economies and populations. In addition, destination attractiveness is a key driver of demand for leisure travel.
There are many other factors that affect demand for air travel. When the economy grows, greater economic activity stimulates business travel and leisure travel increases as people’s income increases.
- Demand is stimulated by lower prices, both airfares and the price of tourism expenditure (e.g. accommodation and food) ‘on the ground’ at a destination.
- Demand for travel to any particular destination also depends on the price of travel to alternative destinations. Other factors that affect demand include distance, safety, and other one-off events such as health and terrorism scares.
The concept of elasticity is very useful for understanding demand drivers. Elasticity measures the responsiveness of demand for air travel to changes in some other variable such as prices or income. A price elasticity of -0.5, for example, means that a 10% increase in price leads to a 5% reduction in the level of demand for travel. Or an income elasticity of 1.2, for example, means that a 10% increase in income leads to a 12% increase in the level of demand for travel.
Many studies have attempted to estimate various demand elasticities for air travel. In terms of price and income elasticities, a meta-study by Gillen et al (2008) summarised 254 different estimates from 21 published studies and found an overall median price elasticity of -1.1, indicating that demand for air travel is relatively sensitive to price changes.
As would be expected, the results also indicate that travel for business purposes is less price sensitive than travel for leisure purposes with business short/medium hail elasticities between -0.8 and -0.6 and long haul elasticities between -0.5 and -0.2, compared to -1.5 to -0.9 for short/medium haul and -1.7 to -0.5 for long haul leisure travel. Gillen et al also report a median income elasticity of 1.4, suggesting that demand for air travel is relatively sensitive to changes in income. The table below represents the median for each market segment – Source: Air Travel Demand Elasticities: Concepts, Issues and Measurement.
Given that someone has decided to travel, their choice of airline and airport, when such a choice exists, depends on a number of micro-level factors including purpose of travel, ease of access to the airport, flight frequency, expected delays, and departure/arrival times (Ishii et al, 2009). Thus the demand faced by a particular airline depends on macroeconomic factors as well as other factors more directly under its control.
Source: The New Zealand Aviation Operational Environment: A Guide for the Tourism Sector 2010