Appetite for travel recovers in the Middle East as a majority of residents plan a vacation in 2021
May 17th, 2021, Bhawna Singh

Appetite for travel recovers in the Middle East as a majority of residents plan a vacation in 2021

New data from YouGov reveals changing travel sentiment in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia since last year

As vaccinations rolled out and travel reopened in certain parts of the world, people could finally fulfil their wanderlust and start making further travel plans in the coming months.

Since October last year, YouGov’s Global Travel Profiles (GTP), an international daily travel survey, has been tracking consumer sentiment and attitudes towards travel across 25 countries. A new recontact study to Global Travel Profiles was undertaken in April to compare travel trends of the Middle East population in 2020 vs 2021 and to see the key shifts in travel preferences.

Data from the study shows six in ten surveyed respondents (59%) in the UAE and Saudi Arabia said they took a leisure trip (domestic or international) in 2020. In 2021, an appetite for travel has improved, and more than seven in ten (72%) residents said they have already or intend to travel this year. This is one of the highest rates in the world.

In both the UAE and Saudi, the intent to travel domestically or within the MENA region increased slightly, too, compared to last year (53% in 2020 and 57% in 2021). However, intent to travel abroad has more than doubled since last year (from 11% to 26%).

Roughly a fifth of consumers in both of these countries are unlikely to travel in 2021 (19%), a number which nearly halved since 2020 when it stood at 37%, indicating a recovering appetite for travel among residents.

Interestingly, we found significant differences among these two neighbouring markets. Domestic travel is likely to be more popular among the Saudi residents than amongst the UAE public this year (61% vs 54%), with the latter keener on taking international trips (33% vs 19%).

Motivation to travel in 2021

Among those who have or expect to travel in 2021, visiting family and friends emerged as the biggest motivation to travel this year (as said by 50%). This motive is much stronger among those planning to travel abroad this year, especially residents from the UAE, as compared to those planning to take domestic trips (59% vs 48%). With a considerable proportion of expats residing in these countries, the desire to reconnect with friends and family is one of the key drivers to travel abroad this year.

After family, many residents in both countries want to travel to enjoy the scenic beauty of their selected destination (44%) or go back to the places they love or like (34%).

Some want to travel to enjoy food & drinks popular at a destination (28%), experience the culture of a place (28%), learn a new skill in a new destination (25%) or know about the history of a place (21%).

When asked about their budget, two in five respondents in both countries (42%) said they are willing to spend more than the amount they spent on leisure trips in 2019, while a third (33%) plan to spend the same amount of money.

Although a fifth (19%) intend to spend less than earlier on leisure travel in 2021, this number is notably higher among international travellers (planning to travel abroad in 2021) as compared to domestic travellers (25% vs 17%).

Most popular destinations

Looking at their preferences using YouGov destination Index, which tracks public perceptions of destinations across 16 metrics, we see Dubai as the first choice for a holiday among UAE residents. The Maldives is the second option for people planning a vacation. Abu Dhabi is also a popular selection. With travel bouncing back globally and many countries easing travel restrictions, we see more international destinations making it to the wishlist of the UAE travellers. Along with Maldives, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada, the USA and Japan are some of the other destinations currently being considered by UAE residents for their next holiday.

On the other hand, Saudi residents choose to stay close to home, and the top four destinations being considered are domestic locations- either within the country or the region. Saudi Arabia is the top choice of KSA residents. Outside the country, UAE is the most popular option, particularly Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Many are also considering Egypt for a vacation. Some international destinations are also on travellers’ minds; however currently the focus is more on domestic travel.

Data for the re-contact study collected online among 2515 respondents in the UAE and KSA by YouGov’s Omnibus between March 24th – April 1st 2021 using YouGov’s panel of over 11 million people worldwide

Destination Index data based on last 30 days period ending 4th May 2021