If 2020 was the year the world stood still, 2021 was set to be the year of the comeback. But, unfortunately, due to a mix of new variants, varying government legislations, and general public unease, COVID didn’t quite allow the GCC traveller to travel the way we wanted.
But that didn’t stop people’s wanderlust. And indeed, citizens and residents of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) countries (Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) have made their intentions for travel quite clear online. And with 2022 looking the most promising year yet, thanks to scientific developments and widespread successful vaccination programmes, travelling is set to be high on most people’s 2022 bucket list.
In this two-part series, we are going to analyse the statistics gathered by our proprietary AI-enabled consumer intelligence platform, Sila, to understand the GCC traveller.
Key trends for the GCC Traveller in 2021
Using social media, we are able to meaningfully gather data on the travel target audience within the GCC to accurately pinpoint travel preferences. In doing so, we can more accurately market travel information to the correct target audience.
In this first part, we are going to take a deep dive into the destinations leading the travel intentions of those living in the GCC.
So, what can the travel preferences of 2021 teach us about the 2022 travel intentions of members from GCC nations?
GCC traveller sentiment towards travel
Following a disastrous year for the travel industry in 2020, public sentiment was low when it came to feelings surrounding the economy and travel prospects. However, 2021 saw the public sentiment sharply increase to an overwhelmingly positive response towards the economy and travel.
This positive outlook shows trust and willingness from the people of the GCC to start travelling again and not be as worried about whether they can afford to do so or not. After all, the economies were hit hard in some GCC countries, and many families fell on tough times.
The GCC traveller is eager to travel
Since July 2020, there has been a rapid rise in general tweeting about travel and intentions to travel in the near future amongst those living in GCC countries. The rise became even more apparent in July 2021 when travel tweets had more than doubled compared to 12 months prior.
If we look more in-depth at individual countries, we can see that the KSA, in particular, has seen great numbers of citizens showing interest in travelling.
When looking at the reasons given behind travel intentions, an overwhelming majority of travellers were looking to travel for vacations, showing a growing trust in the COVID response and safety precautions by travel companies. This differs from pre-pandemic trends, which saw an even distribution between study, medical treatments, and work reasons.
There has also been a significant rise in those seeking nature-based vacations and activities, as well as cultural experiences, likely as an antidote to the lockdown procedures that have left so many feeling trapped over the past 20 months.
Curiously, of the 2.29 million tweets analysed, there was a sharp rise in the number of citizens expressing interest in holidaying locally within GCC countries rather than moving further around the world.
It seems that the majority of GCC travellers expressing intentions to travel are aged between 20 – 40. The 20-30 year old demographic is driving the charge for vacation-fuelled travel, whereas the 30-40 year old demographic are more likely to travel for work.
Travel within the GCC is dominating interest
2020 began the worldwide boom of the staycation. According to Google search trends, between March and April 2020, a sudden spike in searches for ‘staycation’ occurred worldwide. And we can see those patterns repeated amongst GCC countries such as the UAE as well.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that so many from GCC countries are now looking to vacation locally.
Twitter shows that the most popular destination, with over 100k tweets expressing travel intentions, is the UAE. Kuwait and KSA are also high on the list; however, the KSA may have been impacted by more stringent travel bans during the pandemic so far, making it a slightly less attractive option in comparison.
If we distil this information further, we can see that the most popular city destination is Dubai, which reflects the desire for culture that many travellers are looking for at the moment as well as the increasingly positive sentiment towards the economy as Dubai is well known for its decadence and luxury.
Travel in Europe
While the trends indicate that GCC travellers are looking to travel within the region, there is still significant interest in international travel.
Europe is one such destination that has piqued the interest of the GCC traveller. The U.K. is unanimously the preferred destination, with France following closely behind. Interestingly, although France scored second overall for GCC citizens travel choices, countries such as the UAE and the KSA both showed much higher interest in travelling to Germany.
The most popular city destination in Europe is London. This is likely for a few reasons. Firstly, London is a big finance hub that attracts many foreign investors and has become a popular destination to travel for work.
Secondly, London is home to some of the most expensive stores on the continent, with the retail shop Harrods being a favourite amongst wealthy travellers.
Finally, London attracts a lot of international students hoping to study in the U.K., which can be seen in the relatively high number of tweets analysed, signifying study as their intention to travel to Europe.
Other notable cities of choice include Rome, Barcelona, Milan, and Madrid. With an increase in the desire to experience culture during travels, it comes as little surprise that these cities are topping the travel wish list.
Travel in Asia and Australia/Oceania
Once again, Turkey is the country of choice for the GCC traveller. With a shared historical, cultural, and religious value set, GCC citizens have long been regular visitors to this country.
Second on the list is Thailand, which provides travellers with the nature they are currently craving from their vacation choices.
China also comes pretty high on the overall list, which is unsurprising as research has identified Beijing as the favourite city for travel amongst this demographic.
What’s interesting to note is that despite this general trend, research from UAE-specific travellers does not follow this trend. In the UAE, the majority of potential travellers have stated intentions to travel to the Russian Federation, the Maldives, and Japan.
The Russian interest peaked exponentially in July 2021 and fell just as fast, perhaps as a result of an event occurring around this time (for example, the Russian Grand Prix in September 2021), as this is not a typical summer destination.
Australia did not rank very high on the list despite the fact Sydney was one of the most mentioned cities in this category that the GCC traveller hoped to visit. Those aged between 20-40 seem to be the biggest demographic looking to travel to Sydney.
Travel in North America
The largest interest expressed in international travel is aimed at North America. Both Canada and the USA charted extremely high in interest to travel.
However, it should be noted that there is a big market for GCC students travelling there to study, which widely skews the data. It’s also an extremely popular destination to move to for work. In fact, when looking at the age range of those looking to travel to the USA, most fall between 20 – 40, which accurately represents this demographic.
The GCC travellers have sent a clear message in 2021. They want to travel again. GCC Travellers are looking to explore more of the region, as this poses the least problems when it comes to travel restrictions and bans.
The past 20 months have also popularised the notion of exploring your own country more and making the most of your local area. This is evident in the sentiments expressed by the GCC traveller online. And while travel restrictions remain a possibility, this trend is unlikely to break anytime soon.
But that doesn’t mean international travel is out, as there has been plenty of interest in travelling abroad to countries such as Great Britain, France, Turkey, Thailand, and Germany, with emphasis on big cities such as Sydney, Beijing, London, and Rome.
There has been a large focus on travel for vacationing this year as more people seek freedom post-pandemic, with a strong affiliation with destinations that offer cultural and nature experiences.
So, it’s fair to conclude that in 2022, GCC travellers are looking for holidays where they can relax and escape from the pressures of the past 20 months that have seen lives turned upside down around the globe.
In part two of this series, we’ll look at the personal profile of the typical GCC traveller so that you can create the perfect marketing strategy to attract travellers to your service.