COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, The Middle East and Africa #67

September 9, 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 7th September, 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.

How and Where are Restrictions Being Lifted?

The Middle East and Africa, like the rest of the world, is carefully monitoring the opening of its borders to residents and tourists, and working through phasing the lifting of lockdown restrictions. As expected, this is having a noticeable impact on travel intent and confidence to and from the region, and we look into how some of the key destinations are being impacted by these developments. 

Over the last month the Seychelles and Reunion Islands have reopened, while the popular honeymoon destination of Mauritius remains closed, expected to open in October. In August Saudi opened land entry for its citizens from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Kuwait, with Kuwait also reopening its borders to residents. Abu Dhabi residents no longer require ICA approval to return, but tourists cannot yet enter the Emirate. Qatar has moved to Phase 3 of restrictions which now allows for inbound flights from low-risk countries, and increased capacity in restaurants and malls, aiming for Phase 4 in September. 

Much like other countries and regions globally, the relaxing of travel restrictions, reopening of local activities such as restaurants and shops, and the lifting of quarantine periods on entry for those whose Covid-19 test is negative, will all directly influence upcoming travel decisions. 

Travel Demand to the UAE Fluctuates

With the region remaining cautious of inbound international travel, we see initial signs of recovery from domestic travel. However, as the UAE prepares to tackle localised outbreaks amid warnings of a ‘second wave’, travel searches and bookings are likely to suffer. 

Domestic hotel searches in the UAE have been relatively volatile over the last month, with some peaks and drops notably around the weeks commencing 3rd and 24th of August. These variations in volumes likely reflect local staycation offers running over different time frames, and the summer holidays coming to an end. However, we are now seeing local searches uptick again at 85% year-over-year (YoY), while traveller confidence has remained relatively flat, now at -39% YoY. When looking at international travel we have started to see an overall increase for hotel searches in the UAE, the highest since the COVID-19 pandemic took a hold in the region at -61% YoY. 

 

Year-Over-Year Hotel Searches and Bookings to the UAE – Domestic vs International Origin

Positive Signs of Recovery for the Middle East and Africa

We continue to see positive signs of recovery across the region on our Sojern Real Time COVID-19 Travel Dashboard. By indexing all volumes back to 30th March (the beginning of the travel recovery from the pandemic) there is a mutual upward trend in hotel search volumes across the Middle East and Africa. The UAE and Bahrain in particular saw a sudden increase in travel intent from 6th July, with Kuwait searches growing more steadily, reaching similar levels by 24th August, overtaking search volume increases to the UAE.  

 

Year-to-Date Hotel Searches to the Middle East and Africa – Indexed to 30th March 2020

Travel Interest Rising Globally 

Global travel intent continues to regain momentum as travellers feel more confident in the safety precautions being taken to reduce the spread of the virus. For example, as hotels, attractions, and airlines continue to implement social distancing and new sanitising procedures, and governments provide updates on which destinations are ‘safe’ for travel, larger volumes of travellers feel comfortable in planning their next trip. Countries such as the UK, India, Russia, and Spain have displayed a steady increase in outbound flight searches and bookings since April. Taking the UK as an example, outbound flight searches are now only 33% below 2019 levels, showing a huge growth in travel intent from April where volumes were almost 90% below searches at the same time in 2019. This general pattern of growing travel intent and confidence goes a long way to explaining the strong increase in hotel searches we’ve seen into the UAE. 

This suggests that despite the dynamic conditions and changes in government rules and restrictions, travellers are regaining confidence in their ability to travel and therefore continue to dream of their next holiday destination. 

 

Year-Over-Year Global Outbound Flight Searches and Bookings

 

UK Origin

India Origin

Russia Origin

Spain Origin

Russia and India See Strong Upticks in Travel Searches to Dubai and the UAE

When broken down by the Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai), although Abu Dhabi remains closed off to tourists at the moment with only residents allowed to return, there has been a strong increase in searches to travel to Dubai and to the UAE overall, particularly from Russia and India. This not only highlights how traveller behaviour reflects local restrictions such as entry to Abu Dhabi, but also the demand for international travellers that is building up. 

 

Year-Over-Year Flight Searches to the UAE

 

Russia Origin

India Origin

Staycation Plans Continue to Lead the Way for Travel in 2020 

Despite the spikes and dips in travel intent and confidence that were observed over August, it is clear that the traveller mindset continues to be local first. When comparing the distance from which a traveller is searching from based on their origin, between January 2020 and July 2020 there has been a 41% increase in travellers searching and booking hotels within a 0-30 mile radius of their destination to the UAE. 

 

Hotel Search and Booking Volumes to the UAE – Distance From Origin

And while the traveller mindset in the UAE tends to lend itself to searching and booking within a relatively short window time between 0-7 days, the lead time to distance of hotels trend is even more profound when comparing January to July. There have been noticeable increases in the 0-1 day booking window from 44% in January 2020 up to almost 80% in July 2020. 

 

Hotel Search and Booking Volumes to the UAE – Lead Time Relative to Distance From Origin

 

January 2020

July 2020

The Middle East and Africa, like most other regions, are showing positive signs of recovery domestically, as well as internationally. Although travel intent and confidence is growing, as travel restrictions and lockdowns continue to be implemented, there is understandably some volatility in traveller confidence. Russia and India are some of the key markets showing strong upticks in travel intent to the UAE, and for domestic trips, search and booking lead times are getting increasingly shorter. 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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