Stock - John Mangelaars of Skyscanner
John Mangelaars of Skyscanner sees travellers shedding habits picked up during the last two years, and that can only be a good thing. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: For the first time since 2020, travellers worldwide are once again making advance bookings for flights and hotel stays, as worries about COVID-19 start to recede. Another factor has been the further easing of travel restrictions related to testing and paperwork.

So, less of the last-minute travel plans and booking tickets. “The booking windows are growing and there’s already more airline capacity in the second quarter,” said John Mangelaars, CEO of Skyscanner, a travel search engine for flights, hotels and car rentals. The company started in 2003 as flight price comparison website.

John Mangelaars, CEO of Skyscanner, wants Gulf countries to come up with complementary - not competing - strategies on their tourism industry gameplan. Clint Egbert & Irish Eden R. Belleza/Gulf News

“Gulf countries should actually sit together and map out global tourism trends – there will be some overlap for sure, but they need to make sure that they have some unique propositions. One country could focus on volume and entertainment, while another market could cater to a bit more exclusive market.

The Middle East region, which received more than 43.8 million visitors in 2019, is seeing tight competition in the tourism space with each country investing heavily in hospitality and related promotional efforts. “Don’t compete for the same customers because there are so many – this is my advice to the different tourism boards,” said Mangelaars.

According to aviation consultancy OAG, global airline capacity has settled at 82 million seats this week, up 39 per cent from the same period a year earlier. Yet, it is still down 22 per cent from 2020, which was when the COVID-19 situation started to take on a pandemic aspect.

An Asian dip

North America has remained the single largest region with an extra 350,000 seats this week, and with Northeast Asia slipping back by some 550,000, the gap between the two regions has grown to 4.2 million seats. It is now at one of its widest points since the pandemic began, wrote aviation analyst John Grant in an article for OAG.

Asia seems to be the sole sticking point for airlines and travel industry participants right now. The zero-tolerance approach in China and Hong Kong has meant that any new gains in capacity or traffic is immediately undone due to tight restrictions.

The airspace closures resulting from the Ukraine-Russia conflict is also having an impact on flight movement. Airline capacity in Central and Eastern Europe fell by 9 per cent this week. Despite this, travel demand is still strong.

“As per our data, there is no slowdown,” said Mangelaars. “Safety has not come up as a concern from those looking to travel.”

Travel interest surges

Australia, which has been under a strict lockdown for most of the pandemic, opened up its borders in February and people have gone about making travel plans almost immediately. “When Australia opened up, we had 1,000 times the search demand,” said Mangelaars. “The second something opens up, interest in inbound or outbound travel goes through the roof.”

Until now, passengers were showing a strong preference for destinations perceived as ‘safe’. That’s changing now. “After Omicron, people’s attitudes have changed because it is a much lighter variant – travellers are now flying freely into Europe, US, Middle East and Latin America,” said the CEO.

If popular destinations in Asia remain closed, Dubai, which is much closer to Europe and well-connected by flights, stands to gain. “When you are an Asian destination, you have business in the Fall and in the winter, that's your opportunity for European tourists,” he added. “if you don't open up now, people will just book Dubai.”