COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, The Middle East and Africa #17


With over 2.4 million confirmed cases and more than 165,000 deaths from COVID-19 globally as of 20th April, we continue to see significant impact across all industries around the world, including the travel industry. 

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 and be prepared for the recovery once the situation stabilises. 

Whilst no-one can anticipate the full impact of these exceptional circumstances, our data can provide some insight into how travellers are responding to the current situation, the more long-term impact that COVID-19 will have on destinations, and when the first signs of recovery start to appear. 

These insights are based on data collected on 20th April, 2020. We will be providing new data insights on a weekly basis in order to provide a regular 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.

Global Flight Bookings to the Middle East and Africa Remain Low

Stringent lockdowns and sterilisation programmes across the region have had a positive impact on reducing the average daily increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases. “South Africa’s restrictions have succeeded in reducing the country’s average daily increase of confirmed cases from 42% to about 4% since the lockdown began on March 27th” said President Cyril Ramaphosa. On 18th April, the Moroccan government announced an extension of the lockdown for another month, to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

With lockdowns maintained, and preventative measures being taken, it is no surprise that flight bookings to the region remain low, seeing little to no movement since last week. Qatar and South Africa reflect very small upticks in bookings this week, but still remain extremely low in comparison to last year, at 89% and 83% below the bookings experienced at the same time in 2019. 

Hotel Bookings and Searches to the Middle East and Africa Remain Strong in  Comparison to Other Regions 

When comparing hotel bookings and searches globally, the Middle East and Africa (MEA) remain some of the most resilient to the impact of the pandemic so far. By indexing all bookings and searches to zero on 5th January 2020, removing the bias of larger search volumes in larger regions, we can see a much clearer comparison of where increases and decreases have occurred in comparison to other regions globally. When comparing the six regions displayed in the graph from a search perspective, Africa and the Middle East have maintained the highest level of travel intent, experiencing the lowest drops in searches. With regards to bookings, the Middle East is the highest, seeing the smallest drop in bookings. However, Africa has experienced a bigger impact on bookings seeing the 2nd largest decrease compared to the five other regions. 

Year-Over-Year Change in Global Hotel Search/Booking Events – Indexed to Jan 5, 2020

Domestic Travel to MEA Markets Holds Stronger than International Travel

When comparing year-over year hotel searches and bookings to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey, domestic is holding out over international travel. This suggests that local travel will regain momentum first. Although Turkey is showing an uptick in domestic travel, it is important to note that this graph looks at searches and bookings currently being made, rather than looking at future departure dates. As restrictions on travel continue to be tightened across the country, it may seem contradictory that domestic travel is displaying an uptick at this moment. However, the travel intent we are seeing could be for departures as far into the future as 2021 and reflect those dreaming and planning trips to destinations they are most confident will have recovered by their intended departure date.  

Year-Over-Year Change in Turkey Hotel Searches/Bookings – Domestic vs International Origin –  Indexed to Jan 5, 2020

Year-Over-Year Change in UAE Hotel Searches/Bookings – Domestic vs International Origin –  Indexed to Jan 5, 2020

Solo Leisure Travellers Searching for Their Future Trip to the UAE

Looking at the composition of travellers searching for trips to the UAE in the last 14 days, the biggest increase year-over-year is from those looking for a solo leisure trip of five or more days. This traveller segment accounts for 32% of travel intent to the country. Similarly, solo leisure travel accounts for 36% of flight searches to Dubai in comparison to the 28% recorded at the same time last year. In contrast, when looking at Abu Dhabi, the percentage of solo leisure travellers has decreased by the largest amount, with business travellers being the key segment planning to visit the city. 

Flight Searches to The UAE in the last 14 days – Year-Over-Year Comparison of Traveller Composition

Travel Intent to the UAE From Key European Markets is Growing

Looking more specifically at flight searches from Europe to the UAE, positive trends are beginning to emerge. With some restrictions being lifted and measures being relaxed across parts of Europe, there appears to be an uptick in Europeans dreaming of future trips to the UAE, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. As of 5th April, searches have gradually been increasing to all three destinations listed, with Abu Dhabi seeing the biggest increase from travellers originating in Italy and the UK.  

Year-Over-Year Flight searches to the UAE from Key European Markets

Italy to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE

UK to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, anthe UAE

Germany to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE

We will continue to share more insights as we monitor the situation. As COVID-19 cases begin to drop and prevention measures become more effective, we can expect to see domestic travel regaining strength before international travel. From an international perspective, European travellers are beginning to show increased travel intent to the region. In addition, current bookings and searches across the globe show that although all travel bookings and searches are lower than usual, MEA is experiencing less of an impact than regions such as Europe and North America. These forward looking insights will hopefully help travel marketers shape their strategies when the industry starts to recover from this outbreak. 

How MEA Travel Marketers are Responding

In this regionally-focused webinar, we discuss how the pandemic has impacted the MEA region, share how travel marketers are responding, and provide some useful recommendations for what you can be doing now to help your business for when the recovery period comes. Sojern’s Commercial Director of MEA, Stewart Smith, and Account Management Team Lead, Dawn Woodhouse, share insights and answer your questions.

This post originally appeared on the Sojern website and is reproduced with their permission.

80 DAYS Benchmark
80 DAYS Benchmark
Sojern is built on more than a decade of expertise analyzing the complete traveler path to purchase. The company drives travelers from dream to destination by activating multi-channel branding and performance solutions on the Sojern Traveler Platform for more than 8,500 customers around the globe.