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The Middle East Is Showing Real Signs of Travel Recovery

The Middle East Is Showing Real Signs of Travel Recovery

Lately, lowered levels of COVID-19 infection have led many countries to loosen or remove their border restrictions, opening the door to true recovery for the global travel industry.

The first to really feel the effects have been destinations in the Americas, starting in 2021 and continuing into 2022, but the data experts at travel intelligence firm ForwardKeys say they’re now noticing the first signs of the sector’s recovery in the Middle East.

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The second quarter of 2022 saw international arrivals to Africa and the Middle East down by 33 in comparison with 2019’s pre-pandemic levels, higher than the international outbound average of -45 percent, but behind the Americas (-27 percent), which is presently leading the region’s travel’s recovery. However, the figure recorded for the same period in 2021 was -64 percent, which demonstrates a marked improvement over last year.

Based upon an analysis of the number of tickets issued for international arrivals in the Middle East during Q2 2022, Qatar appears to be the nation blazing a path toward travel recovery, actually enjoying a seven-percent increase over pre-pandemic visitor levels. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) trailed behind in a tie for second and third place, outperforming the regional average of -33 percent.

Currently, the U.K. provides the largest source market for travel to the Middle East with a 13-percent market share that’s performing pretty well, being down by only six percent from 2019 levels. The U.S., with a slightly smaller market share of 11 percent, has actually increased arrivals by 15 percent over 2019 and appears to be at the vanguard of the region’s recovery.


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

“Looking specifically at Qatar, we see a +76% increase for arrivals from the U.K., compared with 2019, and remarkably we see a +105% increase of arrivals from the U.S. to Qatar compared with 2019,” said Olivier Ponti, VP of Insights at ForwardKeys. “Considering all the challenges the tourism sector has faced recently, this is an encouraging feat for Qatar ahead of the FIFA World Cup in November.”

Another promising sign is the rise in premium cabin sales aboard flights, with shares having increased by over four percent since 2019. Premium-class passengers are currently leading the recovery, now down by only 14 percent from pre-pandemic levels, while economy class tickets are still down by 37 percent.


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)

Certain Middle Eastern airports are also seen to be handling the bulk of inbound international travelers. Coming in first in terms of foreign arrivals is Egypt’s Hurghada International Airport, which experienced a 17 percent increase in bookings for April through June. Qatar’s Doha International Airport is another that’s witnessing an increase in overseas visitors to its own country, as well as to the broader region.

“This trend was aided by Doha maintaining most air services during the pandemic and Qatar Airways adding more routes from their Doha hub,” said Africa Market Expert, Shingai George.

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

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