New research reveals flight booking trends of overseas visitors arriving in Saudi Arabia for annual pilgrimage
Advanced flight bookings to airports around the holy city of Makkah ahead of this year’s Hajj have increased from Asia, Europe and Oceania, according to new research.
Travelport said bookings from North America were flat on last year and travel from South America and Africa was slightly down on 2018 numbers.
Every year, in excess of one million people from all over the world fly into western Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj, making it one of the largest annual spikes in global air traffic.
To manage numbers from overseas, Saudi Arabia sets quotas for countries based on their Muslim population. Local governments and licensed private travel companies then begin allocating places for citizens.
Travelport analyzed bookings made through all global distribution systems to King Abdulaziz International Airport, Ta’if Regional Airport and Prince Mohammed Bin Abdulaziz International Airport.
Its research revealed that Asia recorded the greatest growth in flight bookings in terms of volume, with bookings up by 11,284 (5 percent).
On a country level, the greatest growth came from Bangladesh, with bookings up by 13,906 (up 171 percent).
The UAE recorded the second highest rise, up 3,981 (up 17 percent), the research showed, adding that the greatest number of flight bookings made in Asia were made in India (44,611).
Overall, bookings made in Asia represented 64 percent of total bookings globally.
Europe was shown in the analysis to have recorded the second greatest growth in flight booking volume to airports around Makkah this year, with bookings up by 1,966 (up 6 percent).
The greatest growth and greatest volume of bookings were registered in the United Kingdom, which was up by 2,237 (up 13 percent) to 19,798, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sweden.
Unlike Muslim-majority nations, countries with a minority Muslim population in the West are not subject to the same Hajj quota of 1,000 pilgrims per million of population.
Overall bookings made in Europe represented 10 percent of total bookings globally.
Advanced flight bookings from North America were flat this year while Canada saw the greatest surge with bookings up by 1,362 (up 39 percent). The largest number of bookings were once again made in the United States (15,854).
South America saw a drop in flight bookings with volume down 27%, albeit off a low base. The country with the most bookings was Brazil.
Overall, bookings made in the Americas represented 6 percent of total bookings globally.
Flight bookings made from Africa were down by 17 percent this year, largely due to a decrease in the number of bookings made in Egypt although the North African country did still record the greatest number of flight bookings of any country globally (49,477).
Morocco experienced the greatest growth in bookings in Africa this year, with volume up by 1,078 (up 34 percent) following a letter from monarch, King Mohammed VI, urging the nation’s pilgrims to positively represent the country at Hajj this year.
Overall, bookings made in Africa represented 20 percent of total bookings globally.
Flight bookings made from Oceana were up 1,705 (up 204 percent) this year due to a jump in bookings from Australia, while at least 200 pilgrims were invited to participate in Hajj from New Zealand.
Overall, bookings made in Oceana represented less than 1 percent of total bookings globally.
Damian Hickey, global vice president and global head of air travel partners at Travelport, said: “There are many things that influence the decision to travel, especially when it comes to something as personal as performing the Hajj. For some, economic conditions and increased allocations from the government in Saudi Arabia could make this year the ideal time for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"Others may be looking at their situation and thinking that it might be better to wait; this diversity of push and pull factors was certainly evident in the travel trends that we’ve seen around the globe.”