In June 2021, D/A looked at the GCC traveller and how they have responded to the Pandemic. We looked at the reasons for travel and why people were selecting the destinations they were.
It seems the best time to revisit that now, as we move towards removed restrictions, greater certainty with travel and a world that is increasingly looking to put the COVID-19 Pandemic behind it.
To compare trends, also check out our previous webinar here, where we dive even deeper into the GCC outbound travel topic.
How we observe.
Sila, D/A’s Arabic-audience intelligence tool, can understand conversations on social media and online in Arabic dialects at multiple scales and levels.
Laying on top of that network analysis and personality insights, we begin to have a strong picture of the audience and what we can do to connect with them.
The macro trends
The most significant shift we’ve seen in the markets of Kuwait, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is that travellers have shifted their priorities on why they want to travel.
As the world has opened up, so too have people’s ability to travel – and it seems we’ve seen a significant shift in primary drivers for travel. We know a lot of ex-pats in the GCC markets suddenly talking about their trip back home.
While seasonal factors could account for this – particularly with the end of year approaching – it’s likely that as Asia & Oceania opens up and restrictions are further eased in Europe and South Asia, that there’s suddenly a place for that conversation again.
If you’re marketing to different travel audiences – it may well be the time to engage with the GCC traveller on a two-layer message.
The secondary layer is the trend of people visiting destinations based on whether they are new destinations or nearby (defined as within the immediate vicinity of the three major countries – including the Levant and Egypt).
As we can see here, there’s been a shift away to new destinations again recently for nearby ones. This shift may have a lot to do with the number of national days that are evident in the GCC at this time.
It seems that although UAE was keen on ‘near’ destinations in the summer and KSA recently, ‘new’ destinations are being driven by Saudi and Kuwait after a summer of yearning by Saudis.
It’s worth noting that the GCC traveller is very habitual for nation-brands – highlighting a key travel trend that repeats itself.
So, where is the GCC traveller going?
Good question – of the GCC, the most popular destination is now the UAE, by a long margin. The others – particularly KSA has dropped off recently as travel, focused on Dubai, has grown significantly.
When we break this down into cities, we see a dominant picture, Dubai. By far the most popular destination among people willing to travel in the GCC, followed by Riyadh, Jeddah and Doha. Dubai has such an advantage that other destinations would do well to distance themselves from the Dubai model and differentiate themselves.
Specific outbound destinations of the GCC traveller
The GCC traveller is still, as always, keen to visit Turkey. The relative stability here and the general affinity for Turkey present within the Gulf markets make it an attractive destination.
Thailand is second, followed by China, India and Bali. While of the major cities in Asia, we see a strong preference for Bangkok, Sydney and Beijing.
Why Beijing? Well, it’s the commerce capital of China. Still, prolonged restrictions here have meant that destination is blocked – and people who are travelling for reasons other than leisure have great difficulty in arriving there.
In Europe, a different picture emerges. Great Britain has regained its top location as the ultimate destination for GCC travellers, while France and Italy run second and third, respectively. Lastly, top destinations include Germany and Spain.
What are the top reasons for GCC travellers to fly out?
Overwhelmingly, it’s vacations. Previously we saw a very even split between work, medical treatment and study. Now, the drivers are very heavily skewed towards vacations.
The main driver of vacations across all markets is Nature (parks, open spaces, castles, heritage etc.), and Cultural (music, film, cities, museums, local language etc.) comes a close second. Interestingly, open spaces and wilderness are last, along with beaches.
We see a different picture when we break down each region, with the drivers to visit Europe and Asia, for example, very different.
Overall, sentiment towards travel is very positive, staying around the net-positive 70-80% range since March. There are still some fluctuations depending on the environment of COVID-19 at the time.
The key takeaways from this analysis are that the habits of the GCC traveller are constantly in flux. Understanding them at scale and in their dialects helps us better understand and plan for their needs and allows us some prediction of future behaviour.