COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact MENA

South Africa Shows Signs of Being the Most Resilient Country for Flight Bookings in the Region

COVID-19- Insights on Travel Impact MENAWith some of the most stringent lockdown measures in the world, South Africa has announced an easing of some restrictions beginning next month as a result of economic concerns. From 1st May, selected businesses will be allowed to reopen with a third of their staff returning to work, and some schools will open with limited class sizes. Most people will be urged to remain at home and the country’s borders will stay closed.

Although measures are being loosened, travel is still restricted in the region which means travel trends remain similar to those seen last week. That said, when looking at a year-over-year comparison of global flight bookings to the Middle East and Africa (MEA), bookings to South Africa remained steady from January (when we started to see the global impact of COVID-19), through to the beginning of March. During this time, other key countries in the region saw less steady bookings, mostly seeing periodic or steady decline. Although like most countries in the region with bookings way below the levels of last year, South Africa is one of the few countries that has seen a gradual increase in bookings as of the beginning of April. This can also be said for Turkey, for which a slight uptick in bookings is beginning to develop.

The UAE Sees an Increase in Interest From Domestic Travellers

Travellers across the globe are dreaming of their next trips once they are allowed to travel. We continue to see people searching for travel inspiration, and in some cases, booking. Looking at global travellers and the distance they plan on travelling for their upcoming trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) it is suggested that as lockdown restrictions are lifted, domestic travel will be the first port of call. When comparing searches and bookings in January to those in March, there is an increase in the percentage of both when looking at a travel distance of up to 30 miles. This appears to be an almost direct swap from the chunk of international travel planned in January. The percentage of bookings to Abu Dhabi from within a 30-mile radius increased from just 20% in January, to 43% in March. Similarly, with bookings to Dubai, the percentage rose from 19% to 36%. With people keen to get out of the house and take a break whilst flights are still grounded, and travel still restricted, it looks likely that staycations will be a popular choice in the UAE. With many hotels offering free cancellations to encourage customers to book during this period, it is also possible that these figures include hopeful travellers who are planning low-risk trips.

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International Travel Intent to the UAE is Still Optimistic for 2021

Whilst we have observed a decline in the number of searches and bookings coming from travellers of international origins to the UAE, we get a more optimistic international picture when looking at searches for future departure dates. Taking France as an example, travel searches for February 2021 are up 28% on those from the same 28 day period last year.

Looking at flight searches from key international markets to the UAE, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, although flight searches to the region remain down year-over-year, April searches shed some positive light on travellers’ plans to visit the UAE. As of 5th April searches to the UAE, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi start to look up. This provides optimism that the global intent to travel to the region remains and that although travellers have more confidence in booking local trips right now, international travel will follow. It is important not to isolate travellers from key international markets when thinking about a marketing strategy and brands should use this time to tailor messaging to remain top of mind for these ‘searching’ travellers during this period in preparation for when recovery comes and people are ready to travel again. As we see even more restrictions being lifted and borders reopening, we can expect to see some of these international searches turning into bookings.

The beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan on 24th April brought some welcome easing of the movement restrictions across the region. With the MEA restrictions being lifted late Thursday evening we won’t see the full impact in user intent or confidence immediately in the data, however we will be monitoring the trends closely particularly in relation to the Eid al-Fitr holiday which is expected to fall on 24th May this year.

We continue to see domestic travel regaining strength, whilst international travel intent gains momentum. We will continue to share more insights as we monitor the situation. These forward looking insights will hopefully help travel marketers shape their strategies when the industry starts to recover from this outbreak.

For the rest of the COVID-19 insights series click here.

These insights are based on data collected on the 27th April, 2020. We will be reviewing our data 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.

About Sojern

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.

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