Sojern shares insights of the travel industry in the UAE/ME region

Special interview with Stewart Smith, Commercial Director, MEA for Sojern based on Sojern data collected on April 20, 2020.

How fast can Dubai receive inbound tourists after the COVID-19?
Time will tell. We aren’t yet seeing enough signs of recovery but consumer travel demand is as unique as each consumer. Post quarantine, people will be looking to get out of the house in a variety of ways, so the priority for travel marketers is to ensure they get their messages in front of them while they’re making decisions.

Which countries will start travelling first?
Sojern’s data shows that domestic travel will bounce back first. When markets stabilise and we have successfully ‘flattened the curve’ globally, international travel will pick up again. Additionally, we anticipate recovery will fluctuate depending on the impact the coronavirus had in each region. At a global level this will surely apply, APAC may open up first, followed by MEA, EU and then the US and Latin America.

Some of APAC has been ahead of the world in their vigilance, so we expect that APAC will be the first region to recover. Already, China’s situation is largely under control and they are able to schedule domestic flights to fly travellers throughout the country. Of course just having planes in the air does not qualify as freedom of movement until countries start reducing travel restrictions. Every country is eager to remove their travel restrictions, but that decision will be entirely influenced by our success in combating the virus. 

What impact will it have on both inbound and outbound from 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 per cent of travel intent to the country. Similarly, solo leisure travel accounts for 36 per cent of flight searches to Dubai in comparison to the 28 per cent 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.

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.

When will the outbound pick up from UAE/ME?
When comparing regional year-over year hotel searches and bookings to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey, domestic/regional is holding out over international travel. This suggests that regional travel may regain momentum first. 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. 

What about destinations such as Ras al khaimah that has majority of European visitors; when can they get back?
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. Ras Al Khaimahwill most likely piggy back off these trends but it is hard to say for sure.

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.