Things are heating up as we inch closer to the warmer temps of summer in the Middle East and Africa. The latest ForwardKeys data is rich with shiny data nuggets promising international arrivals and a potential new super hub in the Middle East.
USA travellers take to the skies and dunes
US travellers are booking to fly from the Caribbean to Iceland and now the air ticketing data shows that they are also keen to travel to long-haul destinations in Africa and the Middle East. Despite USA CDC warnings, Africa and the Middle East are proving to be standout performers looking ahead at this summer.
“However, let’s put things into perspective. Africa accounts for 11% volume share of total travel from the US to long-haul destinations, and the Middle East just 2.1%, “says Olivier Ponti, VP of Insights at ForwardKeys.
Most African countries now have minimal COVID19 entry conditions for arrivals from the USA: requiring a PCR Test 72 hours before departure and a completed health declaration form.
The Middle East is bolstered largely by transit traffic passing through regional hubs like Dubai and Doha.
“There is an increase in interest from VFR/Expat travellers wanting to travel onwards, to Bangladesh and India. As well we can see another trend, leisure passengers staying in Dubai or connecting to destinations like the Maldives,” adds Ponti.
The rise of Doha as a top airport hub
Looking ahead at the summer, Doha and Dubai are competing for the top position as the leading hub in the Middle East. In 2019, Dubai held this position firmly, but Doha is progressively challenging this lead.
“This can be attributed to the fact that Qatar Airways which utilizes Doha as a base, has continued to fly while its regional competitors were suspending operations or scaling back capacity,” says Ponti.
“Qatar Airways has even opened new routes during the downturn, notably to Seattle and San Francisco in the US,” adds Ponti. It is also worth mentioning that because Qatar Airways maintained most of its routes, Doha became a hub for VFR/Expat returning home at the height of the pandemic.
In terms of the most resilient destination in the Middle East, the award goes to Egypt. With a growth of 42% compared to 2019 results, Egypt´s strong performance can be attributed to several factors. “They do not require quarantine for entry, although a PCR test is required 72 hours before departure. Surprisingly, the popular Red Sea resort town of Sharm El Sheikh doesn´t even require a PCR test to travel there,” says Ponti.
Russia and Egypt have agreed to resume bilateral flights for the first time since 2015, so this has further bolstered bookings to Egypt, especially to the Red Sea region. Yet again, the Russian market plays a new revitalised role as a key source market for travel to the Middle East.
Top African Destinations to Watch
Ghana, Cape Verde, and Togo are standout performers currently. This is mainly due to the strong interest from VFR/Expat passengers. However, South Africa and Morocco are set to be the most popular destinations in terms of US traveller volumes this summer. Morocco was recently excluded from the US ‘Do Not Travel’ Advisory, so this may encourage more people to travel to the destination.
Kenya´s popularity can be attributed to the start of the Safari Season in June. The direct flight on Kenya Airways connecting New York to Nairobi has enabled Kenya to get an edge on other competing safari destinations like Botswana and Tanzania. Similarly, the dire COVID19 situation in Tanzania has played a part in dissuading US travellers.