COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, The Middle East and Africa #48

June 23, 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, as the industry stabilises. 

These insights are based on data collected on the 22nd June, 2020. We are reviewing our data on a regular basis in order to provide an accurate 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.

Lifted Restrictions Have Positive Impact on International Travel Intent to MEA 

Travel intent to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is beginning to show a strong uptick, and search levels to the country have increased dramatically since the end of May. Although all search volumes to the region remain below those seen last year, searches to the UAE now stand at 57% down year-over-year, compared to -88% in mid-April, showing positive signs of recovery as restrictions continue to be lifted.

An example of such an announcement is that Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announced easing of restrictions on activities across Dubai, including lifting the restriction on those above 60, or under 12, entering shopping malls as of June 18th. With regards to travel into the region, air bridges with European countries are due to be announced this week which will allow travellers to visit various countries, without quarantine. In addition, Dubai residents can return from June 22nd with General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs approval, and tourists are welcome from July 7th under new air travel protocols. With announcements such as these, we can expect global travel intent to all countries affected by the lifting of restrictions in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) to rise, followed eventually by an increase in bookings once traveller confidence returns. Given the recency of some of these announcements, we will likely see more of an impact in the coming weeks.


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

International Travel to MEA Still Lags Behind Domestic, but Showing Signs of Recovery

When we split domestic and international travel, and look at the difference between search and booking volumes, it is clear that international travel has a long way to go before catching up with the demand for domestic travel – as expected. The graph is indexed back to January 5th 2020 to get a clearer comparison of how domestic and international travel have been impacted by COVID-19. Domestic hotel searches have increased three points since January 5th. This is a significant growth, as in March searches dropped by 45 points. Although domestic hotel bookings are not quite as strong, there has been a steady growth since the lowest point recorded in March. The travel restrictions that have been in place throughout the pandemic have had a huge impact on this pattern. However, there are other explanations for this. Some of which include locals planning staycations and daycations to take some much needed time ‘off’, and the rise of the ‘workation’. However, UAE public and private sector employees can now return back to the workplace at 100% capacity (as of June 14th), which could see a decrease in locals planning workations. 


UAE Hotel Searches/Bookings – Domestic/International Origins – Indexed to January 5th 2020

However, when comparing to a time where Saudi Arabia was experiencing some of its lowest search and booking volumes, there has been a significant increase in both international and domestic hotel bookings. International booking volumes have not recovered as quickly as domestic volumes, but there is a positive trend nonetheless. 

Saudi Arabia has recently lifted its curfew and all commercial activities resumed from June 21st. Again, it is announcements like these that are being reflected in the trends, and we can expect to see continued growth over the coming weeks. 


Saudi Arabia Hotel Bookings  – Domestic/International Origins – Indexed to April 12th 2020

Air Bridge Discussions Could be Encouraging European Travellers to Search for Trips to MEA

In the world of travel, as discussions turn to air bridges, travellers are beginning to speculate which countries will open up bridges next based on those that have already opened, and those due to be announced. This week, an announcement of air bridges with European countries is anticipated which is likely to increase European flight searches to the region, which have already begun to increase as of late-May.  


Flight Searches to MEA – European Origin – Indexed to 9th February 2020


Domestic travel in the region continues to grow as restrictions are lifted. Although there is still a long way to go until international travel reaches the levels of domestic searches and bookings, we are starting to see much more positive signs that travel intent and confidence is returning from international markets. With announcements pending such as air bridges being introduced with European countries, and the region opening up to tourists, we are expecting an even more positive outlook over the coming weeks. We will continue to share more insights as we monitor the situation. These forward looking insights will hopefully help travel marketers shape their strategies as the industry recovers 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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