GCC’s future travel destinations: June 2021

14th June 2021

Being able to travel again is what will be the giant re-set of the post-Pandemic area. We’re not allowed to do the primary thing that keeps us going – travel. We at D/A see it as the great ‘normality’ marker to return to some semblance of normality. So what are the future travel destinations, and high priorities, for travel in the GCC?

Since we last looked at this topic, we’ve seen many changes to how people want to travel, particularly the reasons. So let’s take a look at insights gleaned from our Sila platform to understand better the GCC’s future travel destinations and what it means for marketers.

Why do we want to travel?

The GCC countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain) are a little different to most global markets, perhaps except for Singapore or Hong Kong. That difference? A mixed market of ex-pats and citizens with varying travel agendas and capabilities.

Driving travel is the concept of ex-pats going ‘back home’ – an annual, or semi-annual, trip that most ex-pats make from these countries. After over a year of not being able to go home, is it a travel destination? Sila says, ‘no’. We have a desire to travel on vacation more than anything. Also, Ramadan 2021 was the key time for those dreams to start to emerge (all numbers on the axis represent people, not conversations).

GCC travel intent

What about those wanting to travel to visit family in their home countries? We can assume these people will be the early adopters of the strict and uncertain, ‘new normal’ of travel in the immediate post-Pandemic system?

Sila tells us there’s a different perspective across the three key economies of the GCC – with a divergence of ex-pat’s views on travelling for home. This rose to its consistent highest level after Ramadan.

Expat travel in the GCC

What are the travel destinations’ drivers?

What are the key drivers of travel for those wishing to vacation, and how can any brand leverage those? First, let’s look at the type of travel destination the audience wants to visit.  These are the drivers of the intent of destination – here, we selected two examples. New destinations, for example – somewhere new to discover. In contrast, nearby destinations are places that people may want to visit without a prolonged travel experience.

GCC travel destination drivers

Here, we can see a steep rise in travel generally – with the population of the GCC split almost evenly on discovering somewhere new or staying closer to home. While this conversation dropped in May, it’s worthy to note that Ramadan drove a lot of desire to travel, certainly the biggest year to date.

Where is driving the demand for travel destinations as a vacation?

GCC holiday destination drivers

The UAE is the most outbound country in the selection. With consistent and significant differences, the population in the UAE is driven by taking a vacation. The same trend is not seen in Saudi, although it remains strong. We can also see Kuwait is the most hesitant about returning to travel.

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Where are the GCC travel destinations?

Why know the why, but what about the where? We took a look at the most favoured destinations across key destination areas. We found some surprising travel destinations, largely driven by curiosity.

Middle East and European Travel Destinations

In the chart above, we can see among people in the GCC, and there’s a strong desire to see some places closer to home. Particularly a lot of conversation about Saudi is driven by Saudis – wanting to go home and stay home. European destinations, the UK is one of the top-mentioned want to visit destinations, with most expressing a desire to get back to the perennial top destination.

Travel Destinations - GCC - Asia & Americas

Of the other destinations, there’s a strong desire to go to the USA and Brazil. While Canada figures strongly in seeing family, Peru is a surprising addition. It’s not Paddington Bear lovers, however, but driven by the vaccine conversations around COVID-19. While in Asia, there’s a desire to get back to where this all started. Why? China’s life is relatively normal, driving a strong desire for travel, somewhat ironically. India figures within the ‘back home’ conversation, while perennial GCC favourites the Maldives and Japan figure strongly.

Strategies for the next-generation traveller

There’s been a lot of conjecture about what the traveller will look like post-COVID-19. In our view, there’s not going to be a post-COVID time – we will need to live with the virus in ways that will see normality return. What’s clear is there is a pent-up demand for travel, and a lot of it is being driven by travel for holidays.

These insights prove that the landscape, though, will be different to what we imagine. Aside from the pent-up demand, there’s also a desire for travel to represent a marker for normality. This will help any national markets positioned as unique and mean the message will move swiftly from safety to the core offering. For airlines, this means the facilitator of a dream journey will help the travel audience.

Overall, there needs to be a holistic approach that considers varying needs, yes, but also desires. That can’t be underestimated as a driver – when the restrictions lift, you need to be ready for the avalanche.

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