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Mideast & North Africa

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How digital skills can boost innovation in the tourism sector

The Covid-19 crisis has disproportionately affected tourism, a sector that accounts for millions of jobs around the globe. While no one can say with certainty when tourism will fully recover, people are starting to dream again of getaways whether closer to home or to remote destinations. As more and more people go online to search where and when they can travel, accelerating the digitalization of the tourism sector will be key to adapting to the new tourism reality. Google Search data shows that the top questions asked about the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are related to COVID-19 travel restrictions such as “is it safe to travel to Dubai right now?”, “is Mecca open for tourism?”, or “is Egypt on the quarantine list?”. Similarly, and on a global level, 45% of the top 100 questions related to travel also focused on the impact of COVID-19, the yearn to travel, and required safety measures.

Partnering with tourism ministries, travel experts and the travel business sector 

We're partnering with government ministries, businesses and experts throughout the Middle East and Africa to foster digital skills in the travel sector. Last Thursday, we held our second edition of the global Tourism Acceleration Program in the MENA region, in partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The online event was attended by UNWTO Member States' tourism ministers, top travel associations, tourism boards and Destination Marketing Organizations across the region to foster digital transformation for effective tourism planning. Participants gained first-hand access to UNWTO and Google’s insights of the tourism sector as well as developed new strategies for a more sustainable recovery. Below are some of the regional travel data insights shared with participants in the session:Trends on Google Search Since the recent announcement of the vaccine two weeks ago, queries related to air and accommodation to the UAE have picked up rapidly for the first time since the pandemic has started, compared to a slower growth in Saudi Arabia due to travel restrictions. In terms of outbound flights, the recent research shows that 33% of UAE travelers plan on taking a vacation abroad in the next 3-6 months compared to 25% in Saudi Arabia and 20% in Egypt. 

The pandemic has also shifted some travel interests towards the outdoors and nature destinations. For example, there has been an increase in online searches for eco & sustainable tourism in Saudi Arabia (90%), the UAE (35%) and Egypt (20%) as people are looking to explore natural reservations compared to a decrease in queries about cruises, luxury travel and theme parks. 
Rising domestic destinationsIn November, search trends on top rising destinations across the region show that people are leaning towards traveling more within their residing countries and cities including Al Gharbia (Abu Dhabi) and Umm Al Quwain in the UAE, Dhahran (Al Dammam) and Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia, Mansheya El Bakry (Cairo), and Sidi Gaber (Alexandria) in Egypt. At the same time, there has been an increase in people looking for international flights to Saudi Arabia (52%) and Egypt (80%) in the last few weeks.

This is a uniquely challenging period for tourism, but also an opportunity to prepare and find new ways to engage with would-be travelers. We remain optimistic about the travel industry’s future, and about the role that our tools can play to help it recover. 
By Lino Cattaruzzi, Google’s Managing Director in MENA.