Costly trips abroad for many due to the stronger dollar, travel restrictions, and shift in consumer trends are forcing tourism and aviation companies to rethink their approach to the region.
Emirates is cutting flights to the US by 20 per cent starting in May. After the cuts, the number of US-bound flights from Dubai will drop to 101, down from 126 currently.
On the other hand, Etihad Airways has said it is not planning to cut services on its US routes, citing strong demand despite US restrictions on travel and on-board electronics affecting several Middle East carriers.
Despite the challenges faced by airlines, major airports in the UAE have seen the passenger traffic increase as compared to last year.
Passenger traffic at the world’s number one airport for international passenger numbers, Dubai International (DXB), climbed 7.4 per cent during the first quarter of 2017 to 22,496,596 compared to 20,948,690 recorded during the same period last year, according to traffic results released on Monday by Dubai Airports.
The year to date totals follow March results which saw a 3.8 per cent increase in passenger numbers to 7,511,431 compared to 7,237,509 reported in March 2016. The more modest growth rate in March was due to the timing of the Easter holiday which fell during March in 2016 and during April in 2017.
The number of passenger flights in March grew 1.0 per cent to 34,634 compared to 34,303 last year while year-to-date flight numbers were up 0.5 per cent to 100,638 compared to 100,116 recorded during the first quarter of 2016.
The average number of passengers per flight in the first three months of the year was 224, compared to 209 during the corresponding period in 2016, an increase of 6.8 per cent.
During the first three months of the year, Eastern Europe was the fastest expanding market in terms of percentage growth (33.3 per cent) as the appreciation of the ruble against the US dollar over the past year has increased spending power in Dubai and spiked demand in the Russian market.
Asia was the next fastest growing market (22.6 per cent) which benefited from additional capacity provided by Emirates and flydubai in markets such as Thailand, China and the Philippines, followed by South America (22.2 per cent).
The impact of travel bans and electronic device restrictions is starting to be felt on North American traffic figures, which were down 4.3 per cent during March of 2017 versus the same period last year. Year to date traffic to and from North America is up 2.5 per cent.
India remained the top destination country during the first three months of the year with a total of 3,031,866 passengers, followed by the UK (1,618,334 passengers), Saudi Arabia (1,572,963) and Pakistan (1,166,642).
London topped the list of destination cities during the period under review with 974,950 passengers, followed by Doha (797,729 passengers), Bangkok (633,496) and Mumbai (618,638).
Freight volumes were also on the rise in the first quarter of 2017 with 636,479 tonnes passing through DXB, up 3.5 per cent from the 615,144 recorded during the same period last year. This result was positively impacted by an 8.4 per cent boost in cargo volumes in March with 235,503 tonnes being handled compared to 217,202 tonnes in the same period last year.
Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports said, “While there are fluctuations in growth market-by-market the overall trend is quite positive as evidenced by the 7.4 per cent increase in passenger numbers during the first quarter. That result keeps us well on track to meet our 2017 forecast of 89 million passengers.”
Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) handled in excess of 6.15 million passengers in the first quarter of 2017, representing a 1.8 per cent increase in airport traffic compared with the January-March period of 2016, which reached 6.04 million.
Here are some important points to note:
The top five destinations from AUH during the first quarter of 2017 were: London, Bangkok, Bombay, Doha, and Jeddah recording collectively 17.3 per cent of the passenger traffic for the January-March (Q1) period.
Transit/transfer traffic grew by 2.1 per cent in the first quarter and reached 65.8 per cent of the total traffic at AUH, whereas the origin and destination (O&D) traffic registered 34.2 per cent of the total airport traffic in Q1 and grew by 1.2 per cent during this period compared with the first quarter of 2016.
Traffic at Terminal 3 grew by 28.2 per cent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year, with Etihad Airways accumulating 76.9 per cent of the total airport traffic.
Total passenger traffic in March 2017 reached 2,032,642, a 0.3 per cent increase over March 2016 traffic numbers of 2,025,842.