Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the top international travel destinations in MENA. Biggest climbers among top 20 are Oman (+4 for the 12th spot) and Sudan (+5 for the 20th spot). United Kingdom has been the top European destination for eight months in a row with Italy the biggest climber jumping from #8 to #3.
DUBAI, UAE – Wego revealed its regular “Middle East Traveller Destination Leaderboard” that showcases the relative popularity of global destinations with Middle East travellers. Wego users search for tens of millions of trips each quarter and it’s this flight and hotel data that has been analysed to determine the relative destination rankings. The leaderboard announced today covers the first quarter of 2023.
Global Destination Trends
Egypt retains its #1 position as the top destination for international travel for MENA travellers in Q1 2023.
“We are excited to share our MENA destination report for this quarter. Our data shows that Egypt remains the top destination of choice for MENA travelers for what the country offers from a mix of history, culture, and adventure for every type of traveler. We also observe that the UK continues to rank as the top European destination out of the Middle East. At Wego, we are proud to connect travelers with the best of the countries, and we look forward to continuing to work with leading partners to promote their unique tourism offerings”, said Mamoun Hmedan, CCO and MD, MENA, and India, Wego.
Rounding up the top three is India. The country is a major source market for foreign talent and labor for the Gulf region and has consistently held the top spots for international air travel. Going as far back as 2014, Egypt has consistently been either #1 or #2 and India has invariably taken the #3 spot since 2016.
As is usually the case, we saw more movements in the bottom half of the top 10 with Kuwait overtaking Turkey for the 5th spot and Jordan moving up two spots to rank 8th overall. The lone rank change among top 5 is due to Turkey losing some of the bargain hunters travel that took place in 2022 with people looking to take advantage of the depreciating lira. As the currency situation became more stable, the country has been gradually sliding back to the sixth spot.
Biggest quarter on quarter riser in the top 50 is China (+6 spots for 26th place) as the country started reopening in Q1 of this year. At the same time, China is also the biggest loser versus pre-Covid days having lost 11 spots. With further easing of travel largely expected, we project that China will be among the fastest risers in Q2 of this year as well and that it will likely break the top 20.
Destination trends vs pre-COVID
Compared to pre-COVID, several Asian countries lost positions as they faced stricter COVID policies. These are mostly countries in Asia such as China (-11 spots), Japan & Vietnam (each -9 spots), Philippines (-8 spots), Malaysia (-7 spots) and Indonesia & Singapore (each -4 spots).
On the other end were countries within GCC who had more accommodating social and travel policies during the pandemic and served by short, direct flights: Qatar & Oman each +8 spots, Bahrain +5 spots among others.
The UK has been and continues to be the dominant European destination out of the Middle East. In the past 15 months, the kingdom dropped the torch only once, being briefly overtaken by Georgia in July 2022. We expect Georgia and Azerbaijan to challenge the UK once again during the Summer as Arabs look to replace the Gulf summer heat with a more moderate summer. Overall, the UK’s leadership is unlikely to be seriously challenged in 2023 as the country has continuously been the top European destination since 2014.
One dynamic change we have seen among European markets has been Italy which has steadily climbed up through the ranks from #8 spot in early 2022 to currently battling with Germany for the #2.
Middle East Destinations
Among the Middle East destinations, most countries kept their ranks during the second quarter of 2023. KSA and Egypt continue to dominate the top two spots with UAE firmly in third.
Turkey and Pakistan have been moving in opposite directions. In 2022, the depreciating lira attracted bargain hunters to Turkey in masse. In recent months, as the lira has maintained a more stable exchange rate, travel interest in the country has somewhat cooled down. Complicating matters was the major earthquake that hit the country in February and the prolonged news cycle that made travelers delay or cancel travel plans to the country.
Pakistan on the other hand has been gaining ground in recent months helped by additional flights and fewer travel restrictions.
Asia Pacific Destinations
While most Asian destinations retained their relative positions among each other, the loss in popularity of Asia overall versus the rest of the world continues to be the most noteworthy artifact of the pandemic. As China and rest of Asia finally ease social and travel restrictions, we project that a lot of the Asian countries are going to bounce back and reclaim their 2019 positions.
Annual Trends (2014 – 2023)
Looking at a decade worth of travel data, we see regional travel destinations grow faster than long-haul. Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and USA dropped out as top 10 destinations while Kuwait, Pakistan, and Jordan are now among the top 10 destinations for MENA travellers.
Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales.
She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.