As the coronavirus pandemic continues to overstay its welcome, the travel and tourism industry has had brace for an unprecedented year of declining revenue. In perhaps one of the slowest summers in recent decades, the sector is finally seeing renewed interest and activity as lockdown procedures across the GCC begin to ease. However, many concerns remain for UAE citizens.
According to a new YouGov survey this month, half of UAE residents (49%) are willing to travel domestically (in a separate emirate for a duration of more than 2 days) sometime within this year, while only 3 in 10 (29%) are looking to travel internationally (for any number of days) in the remaining months of 2020.
Income plays a role in whether a family will take an international or local trip, with 67% of households earning between AED 20,001- 40,000 being the most likely to take a domestic trip in the coming months.
Apart from this, 31% are not planning to holiday domestically, while 22% do not intend to travel overseas either now or in the next year.
Among those who are looking to travel domestically or internationally in 2020, most will be travelling to visit family (69%), followed by a holiday (54%). Only one in six (17%) will be taking a trip for business and fewer (12%) will be moving around to be in a much safer environment.
In fact, a recent international survey by international event organizer Messe Frankfurt Middle East (MFME) found that most executives and professionals still prefer not to travel despite being able to amid easing restrictions, with UAE respondents among those least likely to do so.
Females were more likely than men to say they would be travelling for a holiday (63% vs 50%). Similarly, respondents aged above 35 were more likely than their younger counterparts to anticipate traveling for a holiday.
Among those who are not likely to travel in 2020, fear of COVID-19 emerged as the biggest reason for not wanting to do so (as said by 50%). Following this, concerns for the safety of family, kids and friends (40%), lack of confidence in the safety measures of the destination country (33%), costly air tickets (31%) and not being able to afford a trip currently (31%) are some of the other reasons for unwillingness to travel this year.
Additionally, an earlier YouGov survey from July added another dimension to citizen’s concerns.
Given that COVID-19 cases in foreign countries have been leaps and bounds beyond the number of cases in the GCC region, UAE residents are worried about interacting with tourists that they fear might carry the infection.
When asked about their concerns of sharing public places with tourists, 56% claimed to be very or somewhat concerned about sharing shopping spaces with them. Just above half (53%) are worried about dining in at the same restaurant as these visitors, as well as being in the same tourist spots with them (52%).
So how can we get people to travel again?
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the tourism industry and in order to encourage tourists to engage in international travel, the governments of many countries are offering special offers and discounts to entice travellers, YouGov noted. Interest on the travelers’ part is there, it’s just that they need a push to convince them of taking the risk.
Speaking of risk and fear, even though there is apprehension about welcoming international travellers, the majority (83%) believe opening up the country to tourists will have a positive impact on the economy. UAE residents think this decision is most likely to benefit Hotel and Airline industries (62% each).
As for incentivizing travel to certain countries, 73% respondents said they are very or somewhat likely to do so if some benefits are offered- such as covering partial flight costs or health insurance or if the entire trip or a part of is paid for by the destination country in some form. Respondents within the income bracket of AED 20,001- 40,000 are most likely to respond to these offers- with 83% saying this.
Travel and tourism central for economic diversification
The travel and tourism sector is a major pillar of the UAE’s economic diversification plans.
According to the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in 2016, the direct contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the UAE’s GDP was AED 68.5 billion ($18.7 billion) which is equivalent to 5.2 per cent of the total GDP. It is forecast to rise by 5.1 per cent per annum from 2017 to 2027 to AED 116.1 billion ($31.6 billion) which would be equivalent to 5.4 per cent of the total GDP in 2027.
The total contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the UAE’s GDP was AED 159.1 billion ($43.3 billion) which is 12.1 per cent of GDP. It is forecast to rise by 4.9 per cent per annum to AED 264.5 billion ($72 billion) which would be 12.4 per cent of GDP in 2027.