Coming and going: UAE travel search data revealed

Reach MENA’s Maher Ghazal looks at the implications of recent research into searches for travel to and from the UAE

By Maher Ghazal, chief growth officer, Reach MENA

Is there anything more exciting than digging into new data? Travel Audience, an Amadeus company, analysed billions of online searches that took place from January to July 2019 to give us a view of who is coming to the UAE and where UAE residents are planning to travel to between November 2019 and January 2020. The statistics show interesting insights that industries beyond the obvious travel and tourism sector should incorporate within their advertising strategies.

I hear you: you’re not a hotel or an airline, so why should you care? Well, here’s why: we can use this traveller information in many different ways. For example, we have found finance and telecom companies interested in future travel insights to target audiences for credit cards and roaming services. The luxury and real estate industries are new trades to show interest due to targeting capabilities. Unlike banking and telecom clients, these brands are not interested in the travel dates; they simply want to create outbound business- and first-class traveller segments to target them throughout the year, as they have a high disposable income. Hospitality, destination and retail businesses should obviously consider the data to understand the visitor profile shift and whether it is being driven by Expo.

The UAE is unique when it comes to travel patterns as a result of its huge expat community. This explains why the top six UAE outbound destinations have not changed for the festive season.

Typically, advance travel searches like the ones used in this research indicate people know they are travelling either for an upcoming event – such as a wedding – or to return to their home country. The latter, in my experience, makes up the majority of these top-destination outbound travellers, but there are still a few interesting insights worth digging into.

Looking at UAE outbound searches, there are two destination countries new to the top 10: China and Indonesia. Specifically, China had the most significant growth in searches, with an 111 per cent increase. This could be due to government initiatives that exempt citizens from requiring pre-entry visas, Etihad introducing Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Chinese New Year, which will coincide with January in 2020. Both Emirates and Etihad released statements in July boasting 13 million and 5 million travellers respectively to and from China since they started their routes about a decade ago.

Colombo, on the other hand, saw a drop in the number of searches, down by 23 per cent due to Sri Lanka’s unrest earlier this year.

When looking at inbound travel, the top four inbound countries to the UAE have remained the same year-on-year. The data does however reveal a decrease in interest from US and Germany and an increase from France, the UK and Italy. When we combine this data with stay duration (which shows 47 per cent stay for 7-14 days), we can safely assume these travellers are tourists. Most interestingly, one new entrant to the top 10 countries is Brazil. This is driven by the Emirates codeshare partnership with LATAM Airlines, announced in May. Emirates passengers travelling to and from Brazil will now be able to connect with 17 cities in LATAM’s domestic network.