COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, The Middle East and Africa #37

June 1, 2020

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. 

These insights are based on data collected on the 1st June, 2020. We are reviewing our data 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.

Positive Signs for Business and Travel in the Middle East and Africa

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) is starting to see some positive developments with regards to the easing of lockdown restrictions, and signs of business and travel gradually reopening. On 31st May, Dubai allowed 50% of government staff to return to their offices, which will increase to 100% capacity in offices from June 14th. Curfews continue to be shortened, and a second phase of easing restrictions is planned for June 21st which will see the Coronavirus curfew end in all areas of Saudi Arabia except for Mecca.

After two months of plateaued search volumes for global travel to destinations across the region, there are signs that travel intent is beginning to gain momentum. There has been an increase in the number of search events taking place, most notably for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco which, although still down year-over-year, are heading in the right direction. 


Year-Over-Year Global Flight Searches to Key MEA Markets

Travel Intent Continues to Gain Momentum in August

Looking more specifically at the travel market, Saudi Arabia announced that domestic flights have returned, as of 31st May, and from 1st July bookings will reopen for flights to 12 Arab countries, including Morocco and Lebanon. In addition, the Department of Culture & Tourism (DCT) Abu Dhabi has shared detailed guidelines with the emirate’s hotels in preparation for granting approvals to reopen the establishments’ facilities such as restaurants, lounges, bars, beaches, pools, and gyms.

Whilst volumes are still lower than 2019 levels, when looking at the months travellers plan on visiting the region, there is a long-awaited, steady incline from August onwards. Search levels for departure dates to Egypt in March 2021 are only 38% below those for March 2020, further highlighting the steady route to recovery. 


Year-Over-Year Future Departure Months for Global Flight Searches to Key MEA Markets Over the Last 28 Days

Domestic Travel Holds Strong Across MEA

The relaxation of lockdown measures and the reopening of selected flight routes across MEA has initially been focussed with domestic markets in mind. This is reflected when observing hotel search and booking volumes, with domestic trips showing growth ahead of international travel.

Since the impact of COVID-19 took effect, search and booking volumes reached their lowest levels around mid-April. When referencing back to this date, and setting search volumes at zero, we can get a good idea of how travel intent, along with travel confidence, have picked up since this low point. We begin to see a much more positive story as hotels begin to reopen and promote more staycation and daycation offers with the relaxation of the lockdown rules. Unsurprisingly, the domestic market is seeing a more dramatic increase in travel intent and bookings, whilst the international market still demonstrates the impact of COVID-19 with a much slower recovery. 


Domestic/International Hotel Searches and Bookings to Key MEA Markets – Indexed to 12th April 2020 


United Arab Emirates


We see the same story when looking at searches and bookings in relation to distance from the hotel. The majority of the region has experienced an increase in searches and bookings from domestic travellers situated in a 0-160 kilometre radius when we compare May to January, suggesting an increased interest in local travel.


Key MEA Markets Search and Booking Distance to Hotel – Country Level Comparisons January/May

Relaxed lockdown measures and the reopening of hotels and flight routes continue to have a positive impact on travel intent and confidence. Domestic travel continues to show the most positive signs of returning first, with August being a popular month for travellers returning to the region. We will continue to share more insights as we monitor the situation. 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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