COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, Middle East and Africa - February
The UAE features within the top ten searched for destinations.
These insights are based on data collected on the 15th February, 2021. We are reviewing our data on a regular basis 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.
Over the last month there have been more developments in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region with regards to travel and local COVID-19 restrictions. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), new cases increased in January to around 3500 per day, but by the end of January 2021 33% of the population had been vaccinated. If they continue to vaccinate at the rate they are going, it is thought that the UAE may meet the threshold for herd immunity by mid-year.
With that said, due to the high number of cases in the country at the minute and to prevent the spread of the most recent COVID-19 variant, the United Kingdom (UK) has added the UAE onto the red list of countries meaning that entry is not permitted without following quarantine restrictions. Other countries featured on the list include Burundi and Rwanda. Inbound restrictions have also been implemented, with all inbound travellers to the UAE now requiring a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test prior to boarding a flight into the country.
Saudi Arabia has also postponed the reopening of its land, sea, and air ports until May 17th 2021.
Dubai has also implemented restrictions on entertainment and activities including reduced table capacity in restaurants, increased distance between people in fitness centres and gyms, and only first degree relatives allowed to meet in homes with no more than 10 people getting together. Live entertainment has also been suspended.
South Africa is also experiencing tighter lockdown rules in order to curb the spread of the pandemic. They are currently following alert level 3 lockdown regulations which include curfews and various mandatory protocols when in a public place.
While there is optimism in the recent reports of vaccine rollouts, as mentioned above we do see various restrictions returning to the markets. These include mandatory self-funded quarantines in government hotels, international border closures, and increased PCR testing, all in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 variants. Looking at the last couple of months, global travel intent and booking data highlight that hotel searches to MEA countries have declined across five out of the eight key markets displayed above.
Most notably, Qatar has seen a significant decline of 47% in inbound search volumes since the week commencing 6th December 2020. Similarly South Africa and the UAE have dropped by 16% and 22% respectively. In contrast, Egypt, Turkey, and Oman have all seen an increase in travel intent since early December.
We can see a very similar trend when looking at travel confidence. Global hotel bookings to Egypt, Turkey, and Oman have all grown since week commencing 6th December, whereas the other highlighted countries have seen a decrease in bookings. All with the exception of Qatar. Global travel confidence to Qatar has grown significantly.
However, it is important to note here that booking volumes are still low, and when volumes are low, a change in confidence can be reflected more dramatically due to the small data size. The recent announcements of diplomatic relations being restored between Qatar and four Arab states in the weeks leading up to the positive uplift would likely have been a strong contributing factor to this growth in booking volumes.
Russia is historically a big feeder market for inbound travel to the UAE. Although Russian domestic travel continues to take lead, hotel searches to the UAE rank as the second most popular choice for Russian travellers.Taking a closer look at a select few CIS countries and the search trends we are seeing originating from them, the UAE currently accounts for a higher percentage of searches than the Maldives. As the Maldives is such a popular holiday destination, this is very positive for the UAE.
In light of recent announcements around restored relations between the UAE and Israel, the UAE ranks as the number one searched destination for the next 180 days of departure dates by those currently in Israel. While Israel still has restrictions on international travel, this is a very positive sign for the UAE, highlighting that travellers are dreaming of travelling to the country, and putting it ahead of countries such as Thailand and the Maldives which are hugely popular holiday destinations. Searches for the UAE account for over 20% of total search events by Israel and demonstrates the strong interest Israeli travellers have in visiting the UAE.
Since relations were restored between Qatar and four Arab states in January 2021 (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt) and the embargo was lifted it is interesting to see the top destinations being searched for by Qatari travellers. While domestic travel intent still dominates, the UAE and Egypt appear respectively as the 4th and 8th top searched destinations.
With the recent rise of COVID-19 cases across countries in the region, restrictions continue to be implemented, and lockdowns continue to be tightened. It seems, as a result, inbound travel intent to MEA has been negatively impacted, however this is not unusual when looking at global travel behaviour wavering in line with the ever-changing restrictions. It is also interesting to note that the UAE features high on the list of destinations for a selection of origin countries including Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Israel, and Qatar.
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