A high-spending, fast-growing market

According to latest available data, the Middle East total outbound market last year reached 39.5 million, up from 37.91 in 2015. From 2012 to 2016, total outbound trips grew by 24.6%, the equivalent of an average growth rate of 4.9%, higher than in other parts of the world.

GCC Nationals represent the bulk of all travels from the Middle East. In 2015, close to 21 million of all Middle East travellers came from a GCC country, representing a market share of 55%. Within the GCC, the largest market is Saudi Arabia – which has also the GCC largest population at 31.5 million inhabitants – followed surprisingly by Kuwait (4.5 million outbound travellers) and the UAE (3.3 million).

The fastest emerging markets in the region are however Turkey and Iran which already generate the highest number of outbound travellers. In 2015, total outbound from Turkey reached 7.8 million visitors while estimated travel from Iran reached over eight million. The lifting of sanctions for Iran plays a positive role in both inbound and outbound as visa restrictions have been gradually lifted for many countries while air capacity between Iran and the rest of the world is on the increase- particularly to Europe and Asia.

Middle-Eastern markets are of great interest for many countries as local population usually takes one long holiday each summer to a long-haul destination to escape the heat in the Middle East. This long holiday, which can last six to eight weeks, is supplemented by short breaks to short-haul destinations during the rest of the year. Potential thus still exists in the Middle East for many destinations.

The Middle East’s most promising factor for destinations is the high spending by local travellers. Expenditure on outbound travel from the Middle East is expected to reach $165.3 billion by 2025, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, a performance which is doubled as large as total revenues spent in 2015 at US$77 billion in 2015. Growth is being driven by international luxury travellers. Saudi Arabia’s outbound expenditure represented close to US$21 billion in 2015, followed by the UAE with US$15.1 billion, Kuwait at US$12.3 billion and Iran with US$7.6 billion.

Compared to the rest of the world, GCC Nationals spend 260% more on airfares and 430% more on accommodation according to studies. Between 40 and 60% of all GCC Nationals travel business class.