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.
Langley, United Kingdom -- Advanced flight bookings to airports around the holy city of Mecca ahead of this year’s Hajj have increased from Asia, Europe and Oceania, according to research by Travelport, a leading technology company serving the global travel industry. Bookings from North America are flat on last year and travel from South America and Africa is 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.
As part of its study, Travelport analyzed bookings made through all global distribution systems (GDS) to King Abdulaziz International Airport, Ta’if Regional Airport and Prince Mohammed Bin Abdulaziz International Airport, as of Tuesday 21 July 2019, arriving from Tuesday 9 July 2019 to Thursday 8 August 2019. The company then ran comparable data for last year’s Hajj, so trends could be identified.
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.”
According to Travelport’s analysis of available 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%).
On a country level, the greatest growth came from Bangladesh, with bookings up by 13,906 (+171%). 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 United Arab Emirates recorded the second highest rise, up 3,981 (+17%); followed by Qatar, up 3,278 (+217%), a country where pilgrims can now register for their Hajj using dedicated ‘electronic gates’.
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.”
The greatest number of flight bookings made through GDS in Asia were made in India (44,611).
Overall, bookings made in Asia represented 64% of total bookings globally.
* GDS are vast hi-tech reservation networks that allow travel agents and travel management companies, among others, to search and book airline seats, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other travel related items. Globally in 2018, Travelport alone processed one trillion transactions through its GDS. All data is derived from Travelport’s interpretation of relevant Marketing Information Data Transfer (MIDT) data. It reflects bookings made through GDS only. Additional booking will have been made directly with airlines, which may or may not also have a GDS presence. During Hajj, it should be noted that a large number of charter flights are added to manage dramatic increases in demand for trips to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and these are not recorded through GDS as bookings are made directly with associated airlines.