Advanced flight bookings to airports around the holy city of Mecca ahead of this year’s Hajj have rose from Asia, Europe and Oceania, according to a Travelport report, even as bookings from North America are flat on last year and travel from South America and Africa is slightly down on 2018 numbers.
As part of its study, Travelport analysed bookings made through all GDSs to King Abdulaziz International Airport, Ta’if Regional Airport and Prince Mohammed Bin Abdulaziz International Airport, as of July 21, 2019, arriving from July 9, 2019 to August 8, 2019. The company then ran comparable data for last year’s Hajj, so trends could be identified.
According to Travelport data, Asia recorded the greatest growth in flight bookings made through GDS to airports around Mecca this year in terms of volume, with bookings up by 11,284 (+5 per cent).
Overall, bookings made in Asia represented 64 per cent of total bookings globally.
On a country level, the greatest growth came from Bangladesh, with bookings up by 13,906 (+171 per cent). The South Asian country is one of five countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Tunisia) benefiting from the Mecca Route initiative, a new service offering immigration pre-clearance for pilgrims at their points of embarkation.
The UAE recorded the second highest rise, up 3,981 (+17 per cent); followed by Qatar, up 3,278 (+217 per cent), a country where pilgrims can now register for their Hajj using dedicated “electronic gates”.
The greatest number of flight bookings made through GDS in Asia were made in India (44,611).
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.”
Hickey added: “In recent years, we have seen an increase in efforts to introduce policies and technologies that make the Hajj, which has often been compared to hosting an Olympics Games each year, a more convenient experience for the global Islamic community. Our analysis suggests that these initiatives may well be having a tangible impact, which is encouraging from a technological standpoint.”
Every year, more than 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.