Middle East to be first global region to recover to 2019 tourist figures

ForwardKeys 2023 Travel Trends Report predicts boom in luxury travel
/ New Delhi
Middle East to be first global region to recover to 2019 tourist figures

ForwardKeys says that the Middle East is set to be the first global region to grow in international visitor numbers overall

Global aviation data aggregator and analyst ForwardKeys says that the international air travel should recover to 80 pc of 2019 levels by mid-year, with Middle East and luxury travel leading the recovery.
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The 2023 Travel Trends Report, released by ForwardKeys, a global aviation market research firm, says that as per the latest data, recovery in global international air travel could reach 80 pc of 2019 volumes by the end of the first half of the year. It adds that while not all destinations are set to reach pre-pandemic levels, but some will certainly exceed 2019 numbers.

ForwardKeys says that the Middle East is set to be the first global region to grow in international visitor numbers overall, while in Europe, Mediterranean destinations are getting close to pre-pandemic arrival levels or even surpassing them. There is a continued preference for sun and beach destinations but urban, shopping and business destinations are catching up.

It adds that off-the-beaten-track destinations are reaping the benefits this year, with intrepid travellers seeking destinations such as Albania or Slovenia. Iceland, Greece, and Portugal have shown to be resilient destinations during the pandemic with swift, clear communications delivered throughout the crisis. Flight connectivity was a lifeline as well. These still play a big role in destination performance in 2023.

“However, more arrivals is not always better, and it is important to remember the issues of over-tourism many destinations were facing before the global health crisis emerged. As more and more destinations approach full travel recovery, the topic of over-tourism once again occupies a high position on the travel industry agenda,” says Juan Gomez, Head of Market Intelligence of ForwardKeys.

It says that the Middle East is set to be the fastest to recover to the pre-pandemic level and says that by end of first half of the current year, the Middle East visitor arrival numbers could exceed the corresponding period of 2019 by 1 pc, even though last year, it was 21 pc below 2019. Next to Middle East is Africa, which is likely to end the first half of the year 14 pc below 2019 level, up from 29 pc lesser than 2019. Europe should reach within 20 pc of the 2019 level as compared to 35 pc, while the Americas should reach 19 pc below 2019 level, as against 26 pc last year. ForwardKeys says that Asia Pacific is the slowest on route to recovery. It should be 49 pc below the pre-pandemic number, though it is an improvement from the deficit of 74 pc it had recorded in 2022.

It says that after months of depressing international arrival figures, things are looking up for a few destinations in the Asia Pacific region. China’s decision to ditch its zero-Covid policy has triggered a surge in flight bookings, according to the latest data from ForwardKeys. And it is the intra-regional neighbours in Asia who will reap the benefits the most.

Immediately upon China’s official announcement about the ease of Covid-19 controls, there was a surge in bookings for domestic flights; Sanya is the hottest destination with the fastest recovery. “From the perspective of the global travel industry, it is extremely good news for destinations around the world that we are now witnessing the reopening of the Chinese market. However, it will be many months before crowds of Chinese tourists are arriving in western airports. This is because Covid-19 travel restrictions are in place on outbound travel from China, flight capacity is limited, and airfares are relatively high,” says Nan Dai, ForwardKeys’ China Expert.

It says that as of March 20, flight capacity for Chinese domestic travel in H1 2023 was 18 pc ahead of 2019, while international flight capacity was 70 pc behind. Average airfares in Jan-Feb for inbound flights to China were 87 pc higher than in 2019, for outbound flights, fares were 85 pc higher. “As we speak, Chinese domestic flight bookings for H1 2023 are 12 pc behind pre-pandemic (2019) levels. We expect airlines to significantly reactivate capacity during Q2,’’ adds Dai.

ForwardKeys says that India is expecting a full recovery by the end of Q1 2023. Although India’s size as an international outbound market is largely attributable to its significant global diaspora, its middle-class population is growing, and the number of outbound leisure travellers from the country is increasing as a result. Moreover, while India’s intraregional outbound travel market is relatively small, it had experienced more growth of over 10 pc than any of the other major Asia Pacific outbound markets, both international and intraregional, over the five years before the pandemic. Now that the country has fully reopened, ForwardKeys expects its development as an interregional outbound market to accelerate.

The report by ForwardKeys says that travellers have demonstrated a willingness to spend more on travel services and experiences now that the sky is the limit, as reflected by the fast recovery of premium cabin classes in 2022. This is good news not only for the airlines but also for destinations and tourism-related businesses – as travellers arriving in premium-class cabins are likely to spend more at the location they are visiting.

The pace of bookings in First, Business and Premium Economy classes pulled the lagging travel sector up in 2022 and will continue to do so in 2023. “In Europe and across the Caribbean there is also a new emerging high-end market: Latin America. Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico top the charts as the fastest-growing premium markets. More business potential to be converted by datasavvy tourism operators in 2023,” says Luis Millan, Head of Market Research.

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