COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, Middle East and Africa - December

Travel intent and confidence in the UAE grows considerably.

December 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 December, 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.

Key Market Updates

This last month has seen good news for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain with regards to tourism, as they have been added to the UK travel corridor list which means a 14-day quarantine for travellers on arrival is no longer required. The UAE has also activated tourist entry visas for Israeli passport holders which aim to facilitate inbound travel until a mutual visa waiver agreement between the two states is implemented. In addition, on the 26th November flydubai began direct flights to Israel, with twice daily services between Dubai and Tel Aviv.

This advancement came as a result of the UAE signing an agreement to formalise relations with Israel, the first of its type agreed by an Arab state in the Gulf. This deal is expected to boost economic recovery from the impact of the pandemic by increasing the volume of tourists as Dubai enters peak season. Other airlines are planning to follow suit opening up services between the two destinations to increase regional travel demand.

While some countries across the region are lifting travel restrictions, and introducing new opportunities for international and regional travel, others are still implementing restrictions. For example, South Africa scrapped its list of banned nations in November meaning international borders are now open to all nations. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi updated its COVID-19 testing protocol, requiring a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) or Diffractive Phase Interferometry (DPI) test for entry, with further testing on the fourth and eighth day of your stay.

With the remaining uncertainty in travel, the region continues to focus resources and budget on fast-tracking economic recovery and boosting tourism for the coming years. An example of such effort is the $3.7bn loan for a megaproject that Saudi tourism is near to closing. They plan to complete construction by 2030, and use the development to target one million visitors a year, including domestic and international travellers.


Travel Intent and Confidence in the UAE Grows Considerably

November has brought with it a lot of optimism across the entire region, with travel intent and confidence increasing substantially in light of the recent announcements. Looking more specifically at the UAE, travel intent and confidence have increased dramatically over the last month. In efforts to improve legislation, enhance the investment climate, and to make the country more expat friendly, the UAE federal government introduced a number of legal reforms in personal, family, and business law.

This has been further fueled by Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) announcing a decrease in the price of PCR swab tests in the UAE making testing more accessible, especially for those who require frequent testing.

Current Year % Change in Global Hotel Searches to the United Arab Emirates Split by Metro - indexed to w/c 6th September

Current Year % Change in Global Hotel Bookings in the United Arab Emirates Split by Metro - indexed to w/c 6th September

As seen in the above charts, since the week commencing 6th September 2020 the current year percentage change in hotel searches to the UAE from all origins is 76% for Dubai and 24% for Abu Dhabi. Hotel bookings for Dubai and other Emirates have seen an even higher increase at 147% and 56% respectively. This growth in travel confidence is a huge step in the right direction towards recovery for the country.

Global Travel Intent to MEA Begins to Rise

Change in Global Hotel Search Volume for the Middle East and Africa - indexed to w/c 30th March

As we take a look at our Sojern's Travel Insights dashboard, indexing volumes to zero in the week commencing 30th March (the beginning of the recovery from the pandemic), we have seen a notable spike in hotel searches in recent weeks. The UAE has experienced the largest increase in global searches with a current year-to-date (YTD) index of 0.8, followed by Qatar with a 0.56 YTD index, and Oman with a 0.49 YTD index. The increase in travel intent to Oman can likely be attributed to the recent announcements on 30th November by the Supreme Committee to allow tourist visas to be issued to enter the Sultanate, coupled with seasonality.

Where is Travel Demand for the UAE Coming From?  

Top Origins to the United Arab Emirates by Hotel Search Volume

When we compare which origin markets are driving travel intent into the UAE we are beginning to see more international markets taking the share of search events. Although domestic travel within the UAE continues to lead the way accounting for 62% of total hotel searches, we’ve observed a notable shift with the United Kingdom (UK) now accounting for 5.1% of total hotel searches. This is potentially related to the recent introduction of a travel corridor between the two countries. The United States (USA), Russia, and Saudia also account for 12.7% of travel intent collectively.

Hotel Bookings in the UAE - next 30 days from 7th December 2020

Looking at hotel bookings for people travelling within the next 30 days, newcomers such as Israel occupy the top 10 origin markets that are looking to visit the UAE. As regional and international inbound travel continues to increase, more user-generated content will be shared, globally, alongside reviews, media coverage, and blogs. This activity will likely see the demand for hotels and flights increase as we get into 2021.  

Top Origins to United Arab Emirates by Flight Search Volume

Flight searches also highlight an interest in regional and international travel, with 19.6% coming from India, 14.3% from Pakistan, and France featuring again accounting for 4.4% of flight searches globally. As international demand picks up it is important to tailor your message to the new markets and traveller behaviour, adapting your strategy on a regular basis in line with the data.

Travellers Lean Towards Longer Stays

Flight Searches/Bookings to the UAE - last 60 days

When looking deeper into travel behaviour over the last 60 days for the coming months, roughly 58% of search events have been for 16-60 days into the future. Of those who have been planning their trips, about 52% are looking to spend over a week in the UAE. Over the last month lots of changes have been made across the MEA market which have impacted regional and international travel. Borders have opened, restrictions have been lifted, and plans have been put in place to drive economic recovery.

With this, there has been an increase in demand for travel to the UAE, and to MEA as a whole. Regional and international travel demand are now both showing signs of growth. As predicted when the pandemic first hit, domestic returned first, but there are now positive signs across the board. People are also planning longer trips and lead times are beginning to increase again.

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. View more real-time insights on Sojern's Travel Insights dashboard.

More Articles
You Might Be Interested In

Strength in Numbers: How Co-Op Marketing Empowers Hotel Marketers and Their Partners

Explore how hotels leverage the power of co-op marketing to drive growth and success.

Read More

France Experiences Tourism Boom Ahead of 2024 Olympics, Driven by American Travelers

The Summer Olympic Games in France will be the largest event ever hosted in the country.

Read More

Let’s Start a Conversation

We’re ready to help you take the guesswork out of your digital marketing. Contact us to tap into the travel industry’s most intelligent marketing platform.

Let's Talk