The GCC’s online travel sector witnessed a substantial growth in mobile transactions during the first half of 2018, with a 168% increase in bookings made on mobile devices, according to the H1 & Summer 2018 Travel Insights Report released by Cleartrip.
The report sheds light on the ever-evolving online travel sector and shifting customer behaviour across the GCC. Key findings included continuous positive growth in travel bookings throughout the region, together with a huge surge in the popularity of debit card payments in Saudi Arabia.
Stuart Crighton, founder and chief executive officer of Cleartrip, said “Competitive airfares, easier visa regulations and heightened marketing efforts by destinations have all contributed to the steady growth of the GCC’s online air travel industry. The fresh insights contained in our report further equip us to develop travel and accommodation solutions that meet and exceed the expectations of the region’s travellers.”
Sameer Bagul, executive vice president and managing director, Cleartrip Middle East, added “With this report, we examine the preferences of the people who matter the most, our customers. The data we gathered highlights key factors such as the favourite summer destinations, booking patterns and preferred payment methods of the region’s travellers. This high-quality market intelligence represents an outstanding source of information for the travel industry.”
The GCC loves to travel
Air travel in the region as a whole increased during the first six months of 2018. Kuwait remained the fastest growing market with an increase of 13%, while the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman all recorded between 2% and 3% growth compared to the same period last year.
What’s trending this year?
The region’s most trending destinations during the January-June period included Los Angeles, Kabul and Geneva, closely followed by Tbilisi, New York and Baku. Meanwhile, Kochi, Manila, Cairo, Amman, and Goa emerged as the most popular summer travel destinations for UAE-based customers.
There’s no time like the present
Last-minute booking is very popular among travellers in the GCC, with more than two in five customers purchasing their air travel tickets less than a week prior to departure. In Saudi Arabia, the zero-day rush is more pronounced, with 65% of online reservations taking place within two weeks of the travel date.
Debit card payments gaining ground
Credit card remains the preferred payment method for online bookings, accounting for 80% and 60% of bookings in the UAE and Saudi Arabia respectively. However, debit card payments are becoming more popular among consumers in both the countries, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where a Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) initiative enabled Mada debit cardholders to conduct online shopping transactions for the first time. This led to a massive 536% increase in debit card transactions, which accounted for 39% of Cleartrip’s payments in Saudi Arabia.
Mobile bookings continue to grow
The report indicates significant growth in mobile-based transactions. Oman emerged as the country with the highest rate of Mobile Booking Penetration (MBP), registering 130% growth with 35% transactions made on mobile devices. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia witnessed a massive 218% increase in mobile transactions, equating to 29% of all bookings. Mobile transactions in the UAE increased by 66%, which represented 27% of bookings.
Among the regional cities assessed in the report, Kuwait City generated the highest percentage of mobile traffic, with 78% of users accessing Cleartrip’s services via their mobile devices. In Riyadh and Dubai, mobile visitors accounted for 56% and 53% of traffic respectively.
Mixed picture on air ticket prices
On average, Saudi Arabia experienced a 9% decrease in air ticket prices, while Bahrain witnessed a 12% increase, reflecting the ongoing pricing fluctuations in the region’s online air travel sector. The UAE recorded the highest average fare per booking at $157, while Oman had the lowest in the region at $110.
Flights from Dubai to Bangkok recorded the greatest decline in airfares at 16%, while the Abu Dhabi to Manila route saw the biggest increase, with a 41% rise in airfares during the first six months of 2018.