Traffic to the Middle East slows, but Dubai grows share

By Charlotte Turner |

Dubai-Duty-Free-Concourse-CInternational arrivals grew by just 1% year-on-year in the Middle East during the first ten months of the year (January-October), according to research undertaken by ForwardKeys, which analyses over 17m flight booking transactions a day.


The news emerged from the Middle East & Africa Duty Free Association (MEADFA) conference which took place in Beirut on 19-20 November.


As Ramesh Cidambi, COO, Dubai Duty Free told TRBusiness in a video interview last month (see below), moderation in traffic has had an impact on the retailer’s business particularly in the third quarter of this year.


According to ForwardKeys, the stagnation of traffic to the Middle East as a whole can be attributed to a slowdown in travel to Saudi Arabia and the ongoing blockade of Qatari airspace by its neighbours. Arrivals from the Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe grew by 5.6%, 3.0% and 2.6% respectively but they fell 2.5% from Africa and the Middle East.


“Within the Middle East, the UAE is the most important destination by far, attracting nearly half of all air traffic,” says ForwardKeys. “It was up 2% but the next two most important destinations, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were down 2% and 7% respectively.



“Looking at the blockade of Qatar in more detail reveals that the country has suffered particularly badly from a 34.8% drop in arrivals from other Middle Eastern countries, but it has made up for this to some extent with an 8% growth in arrivals from the rest of the world.”



Click here to watch our video interview with Qatar Duty Free’s Vice President Operations, Thabet Musleh for more on the effects of the blockade.


The analysts also reveal that Dubai International Airport (DXB) continued to grow its share of the ‘transfer’ market, to the detriment of Abu Dhabi as well as Qatar.


“[Dubai] has been successful in continuing to attract visitors who stay overnight in the destination too,” insists ForwardKeys.


“The airport which competes with Dubai most successfully is Istanbul. By visitor arrivals, it is around two thirds the size of Dubai but it has seen a 31% surge in visitors staying overnight, as concerns about security, dating back to an attack on the airport in 2016, have receded.”



Looking to the future, bookings for the Middle East in the next two months (18th November – 10th January) are 2.4% behind where they were at the same point last year, say analysts.


The cause of this slowdown is bookings from Asia Pacific, which are reportedly 11.1% behind where they were at the equivalent point last year. By contrast, forward bookings from the Americas, Europe and Africa & the Middle East are all ahead, by 3.1%, 1.0% and 4.3% respectively.



The Asia Pacific setback is due particularly to Pakistan, from where bookings are 35.4% behind. Bookings from Australia are 19.1% behind and from Indonesia, 11.8% behind.


In addition, from mid-April to the end of May next year, Dubai will close one of its runways for upgrade work, which has prompted airlines to cut their seat capacity by 22% during the period. By contrast airlines are planning to increase capacity to Doha and Istanbul but decrease it to Abu Dhabi.


Olivier Jager, CEO, ForwardKeys, concluded: “The most striking feature of travel to the Middle East is the blue-chip nature of Dubai as a hub airport. It is the largest airport in the region by a long way and, despite the slowdown, it just keeps on growing.”


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