COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, The Middle East and Africa #14

April 14, 2020

With over 1.9 million confirmed cases and more than 119,000 deaths from COVID-19 globally as of 14th April, we continue to see 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 14th April, 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 and Africa Continue to Decline

Lockdown restrictions are still in place in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and as it stands, there are no signs of relaxing the measures just yet. National sterilisation efforts continue in Dubai, and with Saudi Arabia currently having the highest number of cases in the GCC region, the curfew has been extended indefinitely. Across the region schools and universities are closed, with all public gatherings being banned. With the holy month of Ramadan due to begin next week the ministry have intimated that Ramadan prayers might be suspended in mosques across the country and recommend that prayers be said at home.

As a result, this week we see a very similar pattern in the bookings data to that of last week with a continued drop in travel bookings to the region from around the globe. During the impact phase of this pandemic these declines are to be expected, especially when it comes to bookings. The first signs of recovery will be displayed in the form of travel searches. As restrictions are lifted travel intent begins to grow, travellers will begin by searching for inspiration, checking availability, and comparing pricing. The true sign of consumer confidence returning will be when these bookings start to pick up once again.  

With the exception of South Africa, bookings to all of the other countries listed in the region have dropped over 90% year-over-year. South Africa is not far off, seeing a decline of 87% in bookings compared to this time last year. We haven’t included data points past 22nd March for Bahrain due to low volumes of data, however the same pattern is being reflected with a steady decline in bookings as lockdowns continue. 


Global Flight Bookings to MEA – Year-Over-Year Change

Positive Signs for Regional Travel Intent to the UAE

There has not been a great shift since last week in terms of travel searches to MEA countries, however there are gradual signs of uplift in intent for travel to the UAE. Although searches for a departure date in February 2021 are still down 37% year-over-year, this is a considerable improvement on last week where bookings for January were down 76%. It is important to remember that we are looking at departure dates a long way into the future, therefore percentages may appear ‘inflated’ due to there being a lower volume of searches for departure dates so far in advance. 


Regional Flight Searches to the UAE – Year-Over-Year Change

International Travel Intent to the Middle East and Africa Shows Consistent Signs of Improvement

Although international travel intent to MEA is still lower than usual, the data continues to show a steady uptick in overall searches to the region. Looking at an average of searches to key destinations in the region, travel intent begins to pick up in Q3’2020, and continues to improve as we look forward to a departure date of February 2021. Searches for travel in October are 56% down year-over-year, but only 20% down for February departures. 


International Flight Searches to Key MEA Markets – Year-Over-Year Change

Families and Solo Leisure Travellers Searching for Their Future Trip to Saudi Arabia

Looking at the composition of travellers searching for trips to Saudi Arabia in the last 14 days, business travellers and those looking for a solo weekend trip remain steady in comparison to search levels at the same time last year. However, the last 14 days have seen over half of the searches being carried out by families, or those looking for a longer trip on their own. This has switched from last year, where the highest proportion of searches was made up by couples looking to visit the country.


Flight Searches to Saudi Arabia in the last 14 days – Year-Over-Year Comparison of Traveller Composition

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. Some countries such as the UAE are showing more positive indications of a return in travel intent, with flight searches rising considerably for departures in February 2021. This pandemic has 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. 

How MEA Travel Marketers are Responding

In this regionally-focused webinar, we discuss how the pandemic has impacted the MEA region, share how travel marketers are responding, and provide some useful recommendations for what you can be doing now to help your business for when the recovery period comes. Sojern’s Commercial Director of MEA, Stewart Smith, and Account Management Team Lead, Dawn Woodhouse, share insights and answer your questions.

Please download the slides here.

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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