COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, The Middle East and Africa #59

August 5, 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 3rd August, 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.

Domestic Travel Continues to Rise, and International Travel Follows Suit 

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) was, and in some cases still is, home to some of the most stringent lockdowns and travel restrictions. However, as infection rates begin to decrease, measures are beginning to be implemented to help lift the economy, and reintroduce travel to the region. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been recording some of the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases for more than three months, and phase three of clinical trials for a vaccine have started in Abu Dhabi. On the travel side of things, India is planning to resume international flights by implementing air corridors with the United States, United Arab Emirates, Germany, and France. The Maldives is planning a staggered reopening of its borders for international tourists for 15th July, and 1st August. However, international inbound lockdowns are still in place for most MEA countries including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Morocco, and South Africa. As of 1st August, anyone travelling in and out of the UAE will require a negative COVID-19 test before they will be permitted onboard. 

As lockdowns and travel restrictions have been relaxed across the region, domestic travel has, as expected, been steadily growing in momentum. However, international travellers have also been showing interest and confidence in booking their upcoming trips to MEA. 

We continue to see search and booking data trend upwards at the domestic level for the UAE. Between 20th and 26th July, search volumes reached their peak since the effect of the pandemic took hold, at 215% above search levels recorded the same time last year. A positive trend in international travel has also been noted. Searches and bookings for hotels in the UAE stood at -43% and -68% year-over-year between the same dates (20th to 26th July), highlighting a dramatic increase in travel intent and confidence compared to previous weeks. 


Year-Over-Year Hotel Searches and Bookings to the UAE

European Travellers Searching for Future Trips to the UAE

Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE as a whole, experienced a huge decline in travel intent from France, Germany, and the UK. This downwards trend was in line with global travel searches, as the impact of COVID-19 related lockdowns hit travel. France and Germany have since shown a steady increase in searches, almost returning to search levels experienced in 2019. The UK is also showing positive signs of travel intent, with flight searches to Dubai at around -50% year-over-year. Although these are all still negative numbers, it is a positive sign that European travellers (especially from Western European origins) are dreaming of trips to the Middle East. 

In last week’s insight blog focused on Europe, a significant increase in booking volumes suggested that MEA is one of the first international travel destinations that German travellers are confident in when planning their future trips. Take a look here.  


Year-Over-Year Flight Searches to the UAE

Origin – France

Origin – Germany

Origin – UK

The Middle East ‘Above Average’ in Global Flight Booking Recovery 

When comparing a selection of key, competitive regions, the Middle East is faring well in global travel confidence. Looking back to 9th February, before the impact of COVID-19 had truly hit the travel industry, the region had the third highest booking volumes compared to 2019 figures at 14% year-over-year (when comparing the regions listed in the graph below). Moving into August flight bookings to the region are 55% below 2019 levels. Although booking events are down, this is the highest year-over-year percentage out of the selected regions, meaning they are further ahead in returning to ‘normal’ booking volumes than the other regions. Although travel confidence in Africa has not recovered at the same rate, global flight bookings have grown to -71% year-over-year which is a great improvement from the -94% back in mid-May. 


Year-Over-Year Global Flight Bookings to Key Regions

As the region continues to open its borders, and relax lockdown measures, domestic travel continues to prop up the travel industry for MEA. Not only are locals enjoying their staycations, but international travellers have also begun to dream of, and even plan their upcoming trips to MEA. Growing numbers of European travellers are searching for travel to the UAE, with travel intent from Germany and France almost returning to 2019 levels. Finally, the Middle East has gone a long way in reducing the gap between 2019 and 2020 flight booking volumes and are now seeing global booking levels of -55% year-over-year. 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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