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Priority Pass Data Reveals Growing Travel Momentum and GCC Tourism Industry Recovery

Al-hadth Ahmed Bin Abdulqader

· Global airport lounge visits data showed a 28% month-on-month increase in July 2021

· DXB airport projects strong second half after a number of positive developments

· KSA reopens to fully vaccinated tourists and resumes flights to key UAE market

 New insights from Collinson’s Priority Pass reveal the extent of the increase in airport lounge visits, corresponding to a growth in momentum of flight numbers. Total lounge visits across the Priority Pass network are up by 46 per cent in the first half of 2021 from the second half of 2020. The lounges are well-positioned along the most travelled international flight routes based on data from global travel data provider, OAG, with 91 per cent of the top 100 busiest airports and 79 per cent of the 100 most active terminals globally featuring a Priority Pass lounge and airport experience.

Lounge data reveals optimistic outlook, starting with regional travel

Air travel is back, and across the MENA region, evidence of a recovery in international travel is also growing. Dubai International Airport (DXB) is projecting a strong performance in the second half of the year after clocking 10.6 million passengers in the first six months of 2021. As of early August, DXB was serving 68 per cent of the destinations in 94 per cent of the countries on 70 per cent of the airlines, when compared to data pre-pandemic. Among the reasons for optimism is the country’s removal from the UK’s ‘Red list’ to ‘Amber’, the resumption of incoming flights from India, and the decision to resume issuing tourist visas to vaccinated travellers from all countries.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia has begun allowing fully vaccinated tourist visa holders to enter without the need for an institutional quarantine period. Flights to South Africa, Argentina, and the UAE, a travel market with huge inbound significance to KSA, have resumed.

These positive developments in the two major MENA markets are indicative of a renewed appetite for international travel. Currently, over 75 per cent of lounges across the globe are open for business, and visitor data recorded a 28 per cent month-on-month increase between June and July 2021.

According to Priority Pass, with this added boost from increased regional travel, average visits per lounge are also up 34 per cent for H1 of 2021, compared to H2 2020 – which is in line with previous data showing that 48 per cent of Priority Pass members are more likely to use airport lounges as compared to before the pandemic. Furthermore, an average of 85 per cent across the UAE and KSA travellers in a broader survey reported that they wanted access to socially-distanced spaces to ‘de-stress’ and ‘relax away from the crowds’. Building on these studies, Priority Pass’s demand-focused network expansion is supported by ongoing research land analysis based on data points including lounge visits and flight data.

International flight recovery outlook is hopeful, but not evenly distributed

While recovery is taking off globally, some regions are doing better than others. The US is forecasted to be the first region to see flights recover to pre-pandemic volumes, while APAC is expected to be the slowest region to recover. Markets in APAC are only forecasted to be at 40 per cent flight volumes as compared to

pre-pandemic levels by April 2022. Priority Pass projects that the first region to hit over 60 per cent recovery for lounge visits will be CEMEA, followed by Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, with Canada coming in last. Currently, the Priority Pass international lounge network covers terminals for 83 per cent of international flights from North America, 86 per cent for CEMEA, 84 per cent for all of Europe, 97 per cent for the UK, and 87 per cent for APAC – making Priority Pass the leading independent global airport lounge network.

“It is encouraging to see the reopening of borders across the GCC as this is a key step towards travel recovery in the region. The UAE is a favoured destination for many GCC travellers. Before the pandemic, in Q4 2019, more than 1.25 million people visited the UAE from Saudi Arabia alone. While we look forward to a broader recovery, propelled by regional COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, easing of regional travel restrictions and the upcoming Dubai Expo world fair, we are already seeing better utilization of our lounges,” said Priyanka Lakhani, Director South Asia and Commercial Director, Middle East and Africa at Collinson, the operator of Priority Pass. “Our projections show that CEMEA, of which the MENA region is part, is projected to see a solid recovery. MENA region travellers demand premium travel experiences, and Priority Pass has invested significantly to boost traveller confidence and meet their need for a peaceful space to relax and recuperate in before a flight.”

Priority Pass continues to monitor and adjust its operations to accommodate the ongoing recovery of international travel; this news follows Priority Pass announcing the global expansion of its lounge network. Since the start of 2021, over 110 lounges and airport experiences have been added to the network, substantially increasing Priority Pass coverage and enhancing the breadth and depth of experiences available, from spas to dining locations.

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