The Middle East shows real signs of travel recovery

Lately, falling COVID-19 infection levels have led many countries to relax or remove their border restrictions, opening the door to a real recovery for the global travel industry.

The first to really feel the effects were destinations in the Americas, starting in 2021 and continuing through 2022, but data experts at the travel intelligence firm ForwardKeys say they are now seeing the first signs of recovery in the sector in the Middle East.


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The second quarter of 2022 saw international arrivals to Africa and the Middle East fall by 33 from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, higher than the international outbound average of -45%, but behind the Americas (-27% ), which is currently leading the resumption of travel in the region. However, the figure recorded for the same period in 2021 was -64%, which demonstrates a marked improvement compared to last year.

Based on an analysis of the number of tickets issued for international arrivals in the Middle East during the second quarter of 2022, Qatar appears to be the country leading the way for the resumption of travel, in fact benefiting from an increase down 7% from pre-pandemic visitor levels. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) trail tied for second and third place, beating the regional average by -33%.

Currently, the UK provides the largest travel source market in the Middle East with a market share of 13% which performs quite well, down only 6% from 2019 levels. a market share of just under 11%, have actually increased arrivals by 15% compared to 2019 and appear to be at the forefront of the region’s recovery.

The Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt.
The Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt. (photo courtesy of Collette)

“Specifically in relation to Qatar, we are seeing a +76% increase in arrivals from the UK, compared to 2019, and remarkably, we are seeing a +105% increase in arrivals from the USA to Qatar. compared to 2019,” said Olivier Ponti, Vice President of Insights at ForwardKeys. “Given all the challenges the tourism sector has faced recently, this is an encouraging achievement for Qatar ahead of the FIFA World Cup in November.”

Another promising sign is increased sales of premium cabins onboard flights, with shares up more than 4% since 2019. Premium class passengers are currently leading the recovery, now down just 14% from to pre-pandemic levels, while economy class tickets are still down 37%.

City Skyline and Buildings - Doha, Qatar (Photo via Ahmed_Abdel_Hamid/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
City skyline and buildings in Doha, Qatar. (Photo via Ahmed_Abdel_Hamid/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Some airports in the Middle East are also considered to handle the bulk of incoming international travellers. Egypt’s Hurghada International Airport leads in terms of foreign arrivals, with a 17% increase in bookings from April to June. Doha International Airport in Qatar is another that is seeing an increase in foreign visitors to its own country, as well as the wider region.

“This trend has been helped by the fact that Doha has maintained most air services during the pandemic and Qatar Airways has added more routes from its Doha hub,” said Shingai George, an Africa market expert.

“All of this can change in the blink of an eye, as we have seen last-minute bookings become the norm and bookings skyrocket overnight as travel restrictions are eased. But we are seeing consumer confidence for long-haul flights is on the rise again, with Americans really kick-starting travel around the world,” George added.

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