COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, Middle East #7

March 31, 2020

With around 800,000 confirmed cases and over 35,000 deaths from COVID-19 globally as of 30th March, we are undoubtedly seeing significant impact across all industries around the world, including the travel industry. 

With our access to real-time traveller audiences and unmatched visibility into global travel demand, we’re in a unique position to share the current travel trends at the forefront of marketers’ minds. In this blog series, we’ll take a look at the data in order to aid travel marketers in their assessment of this worldwide event. They can use these trends to inform their marketing strategies during this period and be prepared for the recovery once the situation stabilises. 

Whilst no-one can anticipate the full impact of these exceptional circumstances, our data can provide some insight into how travellers are responding to the current situation, the more long-term impact that COVID-19 will have on destinations, and when the first signs of recovery start to appear. 

These insights are based on data collected on the 31st March, 2020. We will be providing new data insights on a weekly basis in order to provide a regular view of trends and patterns in consumer behaviour. Sojern’s insights are based on over 350 million traveller profiles and billions of travel intent signals however it does not capture one hundred percent of the travel market.

Global Flight Bookings to the Middle East Continue to Drop

Over the last week lockdown measures have continued to be implemented across the region. Etihad announced the grounding of their fleet, in addition to Emirates and Saudia last week. Tighter travel restrictions are in place, and curfews in major cities continue to be implemented. With these factors, it is inevitable that global flight bookings to the Middle East continue to drop, with flight bookings to United Arab Emirates (UAE) down 15% from last week at 87% year-over-year. The data shows a similar trend for both Turkey and Egypt which show year-over-year declines in global bookings of 89% and 85% respectively. 


Global Flight Bookings Year-Over-Year Change


Regional Travel Within Some Parts Of Middle East Shows Gradual Upward Trend 

When we look at regional travel searches made in the last 28 days within the Middle East, we can see steady regional growth across some countries, despite still being below average when compared to last year. Although the region as a whole is still seeing significantly lower search rates year-over-year, there is a positive trend starting to show for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and UAE, all of which are starting to see an increase in travel searches made from Q3’20 onwards. For countries including Kuwait, Oman and Qatar we have not included data points towards the end of the year due to low data volumes.  


Regional Flight Searches to key Middle Eastern Markets


International Travel Intent to the Middle East Is Showing Slow Signs of Improvement

Whilst travel searches remain below average year-over-year, our data shows a very gradual and steady upward trend in travel searches to visit the region from August onwards. This pattern is very similar to that of regional travel intent mentioned previously. We do see a gradual return of travel intent from international visitors, however, it is important to remember that the general trend is down year-over-year across both international and regional bookings. This outbreak has impacted the travel industry more than anyone could have predicted and it will take some time for the industry to recover. 


International Flight Searches to Key Middle Eastern Markets 


French Travellers Show Sparks of Interest in Trips to the UAE in January 2021

Travellers from France show an interest in trips to the UAE in January 2021 as we see a 93% spike in flight searches, even higher than the same period last year. The data shows a general upward trend for French travellers to the UAE from as early as May onwards.  There is a notable year-over-year growth in travel searches from Russia for trips to the UAE in September. With an increase in searches of over 100% for Russia in September, and a steady growth in interest in French travellers, there are potentially very early positive signals of recoverys with travellers ‘dreaming’ and planning their next trip. 

Whilst actual travel bookings are a stronger sign of consumer confidence, many consumers will search out of general interest, to check for availability and pricing and for travel inspiration to their favourite destinations. The departure date of January 2021 is extremely far out and we usually only see a small percentage of early searches looking at regional travel this far in advance. We are, however, seeing an increase in early searches due to the current situation. Therefore, these numbers, although significant in terms of increases, are very early signs of travel intent. 


Flight Searches to UAE from Key International Markets 

Turkey Shows Increased Demand for Domestic Travel 

Turkish Airlines announced a temporary suspension of all international flights from 27 March 2020 and a reduced service on domestic flights where passengers are now required to have permission to travel. Following the announcement, our data shows that domestic flight searches dropped, as expected. Domestic flight searches begin to increase rapidly from October, increasing year-over-year in January 2021 by 21%. This could potentially indicate that Turkish travellers are keen to plan trips closer to home at the end of this year and are optimistic that domestic travel restrictions will be lifted by January 2021.  


Domestic Flight Searches within Turkey 


We will continue to share more insights as we monitor the situation. While global flight searches and bookings are inevitably declining rapidly due to travel restrictions and lockdowns, our data shows a very subtle and gradual upward trend in both regional and international travel to parts of the Middle East from Q3’2020 onwards. This catastrophic outbreak has absolutely taken its toll on the travel industry across the globe and it is positive to see steady signs of travel intent, despite figures remaining down year-over-year. These forward looking insights will hopefully help travel marketers shape their strategies when the industry starts to recover from this outbreak. 

For the rest of the COVID-19 insights series click here


About Suzy Ley

Suzy is Sojern's Marketing Manager, EMEA and APAC and works in the London office. With a background in Fashion, Technology and Interiors PR, as well as Marketing in the security industry, travel is her true passion and has led her to her previous role at Singapore Airlines, and current role at Sojern. She loves all things creative and can't resist taking part in an escape room.  

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