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

UAE hotel searches and bookings continue to increase.

November 11, 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 10th November, 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

United Arab Emirates (UAE) residents from specific countries, and tourists entering Dubai, are required to present negative COVID‑19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests prior to their flight, or on arrival in the country. The uncertainty around travel, and the ever-changing restrictions as a result of the pandemic, continue to have a negative impact on the economy across the region.

For instance, in the second quarter of 2020 the Saudi economy shrank by 7% and unemployment rose to 15.4%. It has been suggested that the Dubai economy may take until 2023 to recover to 2019 levels. To combat these negative figures Dubai has introduced a one-year remote working visa for tourists, and Bahrain plans to extend visit visas for free until January 2021. Due to the restrictions on international travel, airlines have been hugely impacted by the pandemic, in most cases even more so than hotels and attractions. However, some airlines have developed creative ‘offers’ to ensure safe, and easy travel. For example, Etihad has included the cost of a COVID-19 PCR test in its airfare for passengers departing from Abu Dhabi. This focus on safety is important in ensuring travellers feel comfortable making longer trips again.

After a 7 month suspension, Makkah’s Grand Mosque is now welcoming Umrah pilgrims again. However, while some areas are opening up and relaxing restrictions, others are still having to implement new ones. Oman recently ordered a two-week night curfew, closing all beaches.

Global Travel Intent to the Region Remains Steady

Change in Hotel Search Volumes in Middle East And Africa - indexed to w/c 30th March

Observing our Sojern's Travel Insights, by pegging the index back to the week of 30th March (the beginning of the recovery from the pandemic), we can see positive signs of increasing global travel intent into the region. Searches to the UAE are currently at an index of 0.42 year-to-date (YTD), which is a significant increase in intent since March.

Similarly, searches to Saudi Arabia have an index of 0.49, and 0.54 for Qatar, which is leading the pack in the Middle East and Africa in terms of recovery in hotel searches.

UAE Hotel Searches and Bookings Continue to Increase

Year-Over-Year Domestic UAE Hotel Searches

Year-Over-Year Domestic UAE Hotel Bookings

Year-Over-Year International UAE Hotel Searches

Year-Over-Year International UAE Hotel Bookings

Albeit a gradual improvement, we continue to see positive signs of uplift in domestic hotel searches and bookings within the UAE. Year-over-year (YoY) domestic bookings in particular are looking healthy at 16% above 2019 levels. This means that bookings are starting to look more similar to those experienced last year, which was consistently the case through February to March before COVID-19 hit. Since then, levels have mostly been down YoY.

In recent weeks international hotel searches have also displayed a positive trajectory as travel restrictions to the UAE are lifted or loosened. This could also be a reflection of the region heading into what is traditionally considered the ‘peak season’ in the UAE, with slightly cooler weather, and more tourists planning trips.

Another factor that could be positively impacting search and booking volumes is the recent news shared by the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing of the new virtual working programme for overseas professionals. Opportunities like this will likely continue to drive international travel intent and confidence up.

Which Countries Are Planning Travel to the UAE?

Top Origins to United Arab Emirates by Hotel Search Volume

By looking into which origins are leading the way in UAE hotel searches we get a clearer understanding of which markets and regions are driving the general upward trend in travel intent to the UAE. Domestic searches currently account for 64% of total search events, with intent from top international markets being shown by the USA (5.6%), Russia (4.3%), the United Kingdom (4.0%) and Saudi Arabia (3.2%).

Top Origins to United Arab Emirates by Flight Search Volume

Broken out by flight searches to the UAE the top origin markets are Pakistan and India, accounting for a total of 46% of the total travel intent that we’ve observed in the past 60 days.

Looking ahead to departure dates in January 2021 to the UAE we can get an idea of how origin destinations are changing. The graph above shows the top 10 origin markets for January travel, with the United States, the United Kingdom and travel within the UAE accounting for 65% of the total hotel searches and bookings into the country, displaying a shift to international inbound travel.

Within the Middle East and Africa, the United Arab Emirates is a big driver in travel intent to the region. Domestic searches continue to increase in volume, with international travel intent following a similar pattern, but not recovering at the same pace. Some of the key international origin markets for planned travel to the region are the United Kingdom and the United States, both for current searches, and those for departure dates in January 2021.

We will continue to share more insights as we monitor the situation. These forward-looking insights will help travel marketers shape their strategies as the industry recovers. View more real-time insights on Sojern's Travel Insights dashboard.

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