COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, The Middle East and Africa #72

October 7, 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 6th October, 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 Expected to Continue Through the Region’s ‘Peak Season’ 

Airlines across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) are beginning to expand their flight networks and in some cases, open for service for the first time in months. Oman is set to reopen its borders later in October and Bahrain has reopened for international tourists. Saudi Arabia partially lifted its suspension on international flights from the 15th September and the kingdom will end all restrictions on air, land and sea transport for Saudi citizens “after January 1 2021”, with dates to be announced in December. It has also been announced that a total of 43 countries will be granted permission to enter Jordan for tourism. These countries will be classified into three categories (red, yellow and green) with varying restrictions. Although travel is opening up across the region, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has issued an updated list of fines for offenders of Covid-19 safety measures, having reported its highest daily rise in infections in September.

Although travel restrictions continue to be relaxed, domestic travel remains more popular than international travel, and this is displayed in the latest search and booking trends. One recent announcement which will likely positively impact domestic travel is the announcement made by the Dubai government in September. They will be offering a retirement program that offers resident expatriates and foreigners the chance to retire in the Emirate. The “Retire in Dubai” scheme will allow eligible residents aged 55 and over to apply for a retirement visa that would be renewable every five years. The increase in retired expatriates will provide a larger pool of people with time on their hands to explore the local areas.  

As we now head into the peak season of travel in the UAE, we continue to see a strong trend towards domestic searches and bookings, leading the way with an uplift of 101% year-over-year (YoY) on searches and 21% YoY on bookings from the week commencing 28th September. We also see an upward trend in international traveller intent and confidence in the UAE, with searches and bookings showing an upward tick standing at -51% and -69% YoY respectively, as cases continue to remain comparatively lower compared to what can be observed in other parts of the globe. 


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

International Travel Intent also on the Rise Within the UAE 

Our Real-Time COVID-19 Dashboard continues to display an upward trend in travel intent from all origins to the UAE. The main exception to this pattern is a dip in intent was recorded in mid-August as a result of summer holidays coming to an end, students getting ready to return back to school, and summer promotions of staycations coming to a close. Levels of intent have since started to improve which may partly be attributed to the seasonal improvement in weather in the UAE as the end of the year approaches.


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

Increases in traveller confidence in the MEA countries displayed below may be attributed to the recent announcements of travel restrictions being relaxed, encouraging travellers to consider MEA destinations for their next trip.


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

Future Travel Intent to the UAE Most Notable From India, Russia and Saudi Arabia 

Increases in travel intent over the past few weeks can mostly be attributed to India, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Promotions have been running in these particular markets which have subsequently led to the increases in inbound search volumes to the UAE, particularly Abu Dhabi and Dubai. As restrictions in travel to the Emirates continue to change, we expect to see these trends shift accordingly. 


Year-Over-Year Global Flight Searches to the UAE, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi 


Travel in 2021 for the UAE

Forward looking international flight intent continues to remain down YoY, however we do see some positive signs in 2021. Taking inbound flight searches for future departure dates from Italy as an example, there is a strong trajectory upwards as we head into the peak season for the UAE as the weather begins to cool, becoming more desirable for international tourists. Inbound searches from Italy to the UAE in August 2021 currently stand at -27% YoY. Inbound searches from India and the US also show signs of growth throughout 2021. However, the volumes currently infer that travellers in these origins are searching for trips with a shorter lead time, up by 24% YoY in October 2020 for India and down just 57% YoY in October 2020 for the US. We expect international search volumes to continue increasing as the situation around the pandemic stabilises, bringing more certainty and confidence in the way in which travellers can move more freely.


Year-Over-Year Global Flight Searches to the UAE, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi – Future Departure Months 

The Middle East and Africa continue to show positive signs of domestic recovery, and international travel is picking up. Peaks in travel intent from Russia, India, and Saudi Arabia have had an impact in the growing increase in travel to the region from global origins, and Italian travellers are keen to travel to the UAE in the second half of 2021. 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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