Global tourism to Middle East and Africa up +11.2%

By Pepi Sappal |

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‘Double-digit’ growth in air travel to the MEA region is set to continue in Q1 2018.

International air travel to the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region saw ‘double-digit’ growth last year and will continue to soar this quarter, reports ForwardKeys.

The flight analyst reveals that international airline bookings to MEA grew by +10.5% in 2017 and growth is set to continue in the first quarter of 2018, with bookings currently +11.2% ahead of where they were this time last year.

The region saw the biggest increase in international visitors from Asia Pacific, which was up +19%, followed by the Americas (+14.1%) and Europe (+11.6%), compared to 2016.

ForwardKeys attributes this double-digit growth to three factors: the recovery from terror attacks that hit North Africa in 2015, a wave of changes to visa regulations in the region designed to attract more international visitors, and strong tourism from markets such as China.

MEA Chart 1

The MEA region enjoyed a +10.5% increase in international arrivals in 2017, compared to 2016. Source: ForwardKeys. Click to enlarge. 


In Africa, impressive growth was registered by Tunisia, which saw international arrivals grow +29% in 2017, compared to the previous year.  Although the three terror attacks of 2015 decimated Tunisia’s tourism industry, European tourists started to trickle back to the country at the end of 2016, says ForwardKeys.

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Tourists trickled back to MEA destinations such as Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco in 2017.

The withdrawal of an advisory against travel to Tunisia by the UK government in July 2017 has also contributed to the increase in tourism.

Egypt too is benefiting from an increase in international visitors. Tourism to the country collapsed following the terror attack on a Russian plane in late 2015, but it has slowly been recovering since mid-2016, with group travel surging +66.5% in 2017, according to the flight analyst.


Flight bookings to Morocco grew +17% last year thanks to increased air capacity from the US. The country also registered triple-digit growth in Chinese tourist arrivals stimulated by a new visa exemption for Chinese travellers, which took effect in June 2016, adds ForwardKeys.

Other destinations in the region benefiting from relaxed visa rules include: Bahrain, Gabon, Ghana, Israel, Mauritius, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Uganda and the UAE.

MEA Chart 2

Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Uganda saw the biggest increases in international arrivals in 2017. Source: ForwardKeys. Click to enlarge. 


Nearly all Middle East destinations saw strong growth in airline bookings, except for Bahrain, which was only +1% up on 2017. Qatar, however, recorded a slight decline, with bookings down -0.2% on the previous year.

The main cause for Qatar’s relative decline is the diplomatic row with its neighbours, which resulted in Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE closing their airspace to Qatar Airways flights on 5 June, 2017, says ForwardKeys.

MEA Chart 3

All Middle East destinations saw positive growth in international arrivals with the exception of Qatar. Source: ForwardKeys. Click to enlarge. 


Growth in international airline bookings to the MEA region is set to continue in 2018. ForwardKeys’ statistics reveal that travel from the Americas is up +16%, followed by Europe (+13%) and Asia Pacific (+4%) in Q1 2018, compared to the same period last year.

MEA chart 4

Airline bookings worldwide to the MEA region for Q1 2018 are up, compared to the same period last year. Source: ForwardKeys. Click to enlarge. 

Interestingly, bookings to the region from Argentina are +34% ahead of where they were this time last year. This shift follows the arrival of a new government in 2015 who removed policies designed to protect the country’s state-owned airline, adds ForwardKeys.

Since then, outbound travel to South East Asia from Argentina grew by more than +50% in 2017.


Other promising markets for the MEA include Spain, which is +28% ahead, followed by Australia (+22%), India (19%), Turkey (19%) and Canada (+17%).

Olivier Jager, Ceo, ForwardKeys

Olivier Jager, CEO, ForwardKeys.

Commenting on the boom in tourism to the MEA region, ForwardKeys’ CEO Olivier Jager, stated: “For travel to the Middle East and Africa, both the past year and the outlook for the coming quarter can be summed up in just three words: ‘Double-Digit Growth’.

“Whilst the continuation of the Qatar diplomatic crisis gives cause for concern; there are more reasons to be optimistic.

“From the start of this year, Rwanda is granting all visitors, regardless of their origin, a visa on arrival; Saudi Arabia is about to introduce new e-visas for tourists; flights to Egypt from Russia are due to resume in February and the FIFA World Cup, taking place in Russia this summer, is likely to produce a short-term lift in transit passengers.”

For further insight from ForwardKeys, watch out for day two coverage from the MEADFA Conference.



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