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Latest COVID-19 MEA Travel Insights

The MIddle East Africa region (MEA)is starting to see some positive developments with regards to the easing of lockdown restrictions, and signs of business and travel gradually reopening

Dubai allowed 50% of government staff to return to their offices, which will increase to 100% capacity in offices from June 14th Saudi Arabia announced that from 1st July bookings will reopen for flights to 12 Arab countries MEA has initially been focused with domestic markets in mind

By: Sojern– Specializing in traveler path to purchase data for over a decade, Sojern provides a live travel data insights dashboard on a platform that examines real-time information from OTAs, meta search engines, airlines, hotel properties, first-party data and other travel intent signals . 

1. Positive Signs for Business and Travel in the Middle East and Africa

MEA is starting to see some positive developments with regards to the easing of lockdown restrictions, and signs of business and travel gradually reopening. On 31st May, Dubai allowed 50% of government staff to return to their offices, which will increase to 100% capacity in offices from June 14th. Curfews continue to be shortened, and a second phase of easing restrictions is planned for June 21st which will see the Coronavirus curfew end in all areas of Saudi Arabia except for Mecca. There has been an increase in the number of search events taking place, most notably for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco which, although still down year-over-year, are heading in the right direction. 

Read: Understanding COVID-19’s impact on the transport industry

2. Travel Intent Continues to Gain Momentum in August

Looking more specifically at the travel market, Saudi Arabia announced that domestic flights have returned, as of 31st May, and from 1st July bookings will reopen for flights to 12 Arab countries, including Morocco and Lebanon. In addition, the Department of Culture & Tourism (DCT) Abu Dhabi has shared detailed guidelines with the emirate’s hotels in preparation for granting approvals to reopen the establishments’ facilities such as restaurants, lounges, bars, beaches, pools, and gyms. Whilst volumes are still lower than 2019 levels, when looking at the months travellers plan on visiting the region, there is a long-awaited, steady incline from August onwards. Search levels for departure dates to Egypt in March 2021 are only 38% below those for March 2020, further highlighting the steady route to recovery. 

Read: WTTC launches Safe Travels protocols for aviation, airports, MICE and tour operators

3. Domestic Travel Holds Strong Across MEA

The relaxation of lockdown measures and the reopening of selected flight routes across MEA has initially been focused with domestic markets in mind. This is reflected when observing hotel search and booking volumes, with domestic trips showing growth ahead of international travel. Since the impact of COVID-19 took effect, search and booking volumes reached their lowest levels around mid-April. When referencing back to this date, and setting search volumes at zero, we can get a good idea of how travel intent, along with travel confidence, have picked up since this low point. We begin to see a much more positive story as hotels begin to reopen and promote more staycation and daycation offers with the relaxation of the lockdown rules. Unsurprisingly, the domestic market is seeing a more dramatic increase in travel intent and bookings, whilst the international market still demonstrates the impact of COVID-19 with a much slower recovery.