MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA. Travel bookings to and from destinations in the Middle East and Africa grew by +10.5% in 2017, according to analyst ForwardKeys.

That growth is set to continue in the first quarter of 2018, as bookings are currently +11.2% ahead of the same period last year, the company said.

ForwardKeys CEO Olivier Jager presented the findings of a report on the region at this week’s MEADFA Conference in Dubai.

Source (all charts) ForwardKeys
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ForwardKeys, which analyses about 17 million flight booking transactions a day, noted growth in other key regions in 2017. Traffic in the Americas rose by +14.1%, Europe +11.6% and Asia Pacific +19.0%.

Travel growth in Middle East/Africa was driven by three principal trends, ForwardKeys said. These are: a recovery from terror attacks that hit North Africa in 2015; a wave of changes to visa regulations which have been designed to attract visitors; and strong growth of some vital origin markets, most notably China.

Travel to Tunisia was up +29% compared to the previous year. ForwardKeys noted the impact of three terror attacks in 2015 which hit its tourism industry.

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Egypt’s tourism industry has also been slowly recovering since mid-2016, following a terror attack in late 2015. In 2017, group travel surged +66.5%.

Travel to Morocco rose +17% last year. This was driven by increased air capacity from the USA and triple-digit growth in Chinese arrivals, stimulated by a new visa exemption for Chinese travellers, which took effect in June 2016.

Other destinations that benefited from various forms of visa liberalisation were: Bahrain, Gabon, Ghana, Israel, Mauritius, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Uganda and the UAE.

In the Middle East, there was strong growth generally with two exceptions, ForwardKeys said. These were Bahrain (+1%) and Qatar (-0.2%). The principal cause of Qatar’s relative decline was a diplomatic row with its neighbours, which resulted in Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all closing their airspace to Qatar Airways flights on 5 June 2017.

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Forward bookings

ForwardKeys also assessed bookings for the first quarter of 2018. It said bookings to the Middle East and Africa are ahead +16% from the Americas, +13% from Europe and +4% from Asia Pacific.

“The highlights are strong outbound markets, most notably Argentina, from where bookings are +34% ahead of where they were this time last year,” the analyst said.

“Other promising source markets for the Middle East and Africa include Spain (+28% ahead of the same period in 2017), Australia (+22% ahead), India and Turkey (both +19% ahead) and Canada (+17% ahead).

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Olivier Jager commented: “For travel to the Middle East and Africa, both the past year and the outlook for the coming quarter can be summed up in just three words – double-digit growth. Whilst the continuation of the Qatar diplomatic crisis gives cause for concern, there are more reasons to be optimistic.

“From the start of this year, Rwanda is granting all visitors, regardless of their origin, a visa on arrival; Saudi Arabia is about to introduce new e-visas for tourists; flights to Egypt from Russia are due to resume in February and the FIFA World Cup, taking place in Russia this summer, is likely to produce a short-term lift in transit passengers.”