Dubai Airports predicts ‘optimistic outlook’ following challenging 2020

By Andrew Pentol |

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

Dubai International Airport (DXB) is continuing its recovery after a challenging 2020, during which a total of 25.9 million customers travelled through the airport. This represents a -70% decrease compared to 2019.

Official annual traffic figures announced today (15 February) indicate a positive second half of the year, following a difficult second quarter.

In the first quarter of 2020, 17.8 million customers (-20%) travelled through the airport. This significantly slowed through the second quarter due to the ensuing events worldwide.

For the first time in the airport’s 60-year history, commercial flights almost came to an entire halt in April, as directed by the UAE government. In the months that followed, around 4,100 specially organised and repatriation flights from DXB and Dubai World Central (DWC) allowed more than 500,000 travellers to return home.

During the fourth quarter, DXB handled 49,603 movements (-49.8%) bringing annual flight movements to 183,993 (51.4%). The average number of customers per flight decreased to 188 (-20.3% annually).


As reported, Dubai Duty Free sales slumped -65% to $697 million in 2020 from just over $2 billion the previous year.

[Click the below video to watch our recent interview with Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO, Dubai Duty Free, who discusses the strong partnership with Dubai Airports among other important elements]

On 23 June 2020, UAE airspace was officially re-opened by the authorities. Travel to Dubai for tourism was permitted from 7 July 2020.

These regulatory changes had a positive impact on flight movements and passenger figures increased significantly, through to the end of the year. Average customer traffic figures in Q3 and Q4 peaked at 1.3 million.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports commented: “In the past year, we have witnessed the most difficult circumstances the travel industry has ever faced. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been felt not only in our sector, but across the entire world. These DXB passenger traffic figures are reflective of that testing environment, but also come with an element of hope and confidence.

“An integral part of recovery for the travel and tourism industry is rebuilding the confidence of travellers. One way to do this is through a vaccination programme, similar to what is currently being carried out by the UAE government.

“This, along with technology that will allow for seamless and contactless travel, will once again encourage more people to get on a plane. In addition, we have transformed our DXB and DWC cargo operations. As an intercontinental hub, we are well positioned to support the distribution of vaccines from the countries manufacturing them, to the world.”

Looking ahead, Dubai Airports is confident of a steady, but optimistic outlook. “We are constantly monitoring future schedules and bookings, working with airlines on their plans to return to DXB and new routes to be introduced. This will allow us to ensure we have sufficient capacity and operational capability available to support as the recovery gains pace.”

The month of December 2020 exceeded industry expectations of 2.19 million customers.

Data showed a noted recovery in many areas, especially the return to services in global markets. This was thanks to the strength in operations of Emirates and flydubai and the confidence shown by international airlines coming back into the region.

Currently, the recovery is strong from a markets and destination perspective, according to Dubai Airports.

There are now 142 destinations (61% recovery) served from DXB in 80 markets (85% recovery) on 56 airlines (75% recovery). Government alliances made in the latter part of the year, allowing flights to Israel sparked some growth.


India retained its position as the top destination country for DXB by passenger numbers, with traffic for 2020 reaching 4.3 million. The United Kingdom followed with 1.89 million customers, ahead of Pakistan with 1.86 million customers. Other destination countries of note include Saudi Arabia with 1.45 million customers in 2020.

Within the airport environment, Dubai Airports has praised its customer facing partners in the retail, service, restaurant and beverage areas, which showed ‘incredible strength and resilience’ through the quiet period.

Through offering financial support to its partners during 2020, Dubai Airports maintained their business and quickly re-opened stores as passenger traffic and demand increased.

Dubai Airports said: “These partnerships were also strengthened. Confidence in the future of DXB was shown through contract extensions with existing companies such as Travelex, innovation from long-term partners, JCDecaux and new agreements with leading Dubai hotel group, Jumeirah.”


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