Ramadan travelers to Philippines choose premium airline cabins


LESS tourists from the Middle East or the so-called Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are traveling to the Philippines during the end-of-Ramadan holiday compared to the pre-pandemic levels. However, those who are visiting the country are flying aboard higher-priced airline cabins.

Data from ForwardKeys, a global aggregator of flight data based on actual bookings, showed flights booked from April 14 to 24 from GCC states to the Philippines, have just reached “51 percent of 2019 levels.”

However, Olivier Ponti, Vice President Insights of ForwardKeys told the BusinessMirror: “If one looks at travel from the Gulf to the Philippines at the end of Ramadan, the post-pandemic recovery looks significantly stronger considering journeys of up to eight nights. In that scenario, flight bookings are 30-percent behind pre-pandemic levels; but bookings in premium cabins are 16-percent ahead.”

Ramadan is a month-long period of dawn-to-dusk fasting for Muslims, culminating in the breaking of the season’s fast on Eid al Fitr, which ends on Friday in the Philippines. It has been a declared by Malacañang as a regular holiday.

The Department of Tourism considers the countries in the Middle East (includes Egypt and Jordan) as opportunity markets with total arrivals reaching 73,703 in 2019. Saudi Arabia accounted for 59 percent of total arrivals from the region that year.

The slow pickup of Ramadan travel to the Philippines this year was reflective of the overall flight bookings by GCC states to other countries and other regions. According to ForwardKeys, as of March 31, outbound flight bookings from the GCC states for the three weeks running up to Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, were 38-percent behind the equivalent period in 2019; and for the three weeks after Eid al-Fitr, they are 67-percent behind.

Not the ideal travel period

“Ramadan travel this year is still far behind the heights it reached before the pandemic in 2019,” noted Ponti. “However, a major factor in assessing the recovery of Ramadan travel are the dates when the festival falls due. In 2019 Eid al-Fitr was in June, a much better time of the year to travel, as the end of Ramadan was close to the start of the long summer school holidays in Saudi Arabia,” he added.

On the other hand, there were more flight bookings to GCC states during the period, at just 12 percent behind 2019 levels. “The major drag is travel to Saudi Arabia, where flight bookings are 40-percent behind 2019; and bookings for Kuwait are 43-percent behind. However, bookings for Bahrain are 16-percent ahead and for Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman are 39 percent, 47 percent, and 48 percent ahead respectively.”

For those traveling to the Philippines and staying from one to eight nights, as of April 7, Qatar appears to be on the rebound at booked flights just 3 percent less than the same equivalent period in 2019. This was followed by Kuwait at 17 percent less; Bahrain at -21 percent, Saudi Arabia at -29 percent, UAE at -39 percent, with the slowest recovery coming from Oman at -61 percent behind 2019 levels.

End-of-Ramadan holiday travel from GCC states to the Philippines last year was slightly better, with flight bookings increasing by 155 percent on April 22 to May 2 versus the equivalent period in 2021, or just 21 percent behind the 2019 levels. (See, PHL among top destinations for end-of-Ramadan travelers,” in the BusinessMirror, May 12, 2022.)

Image credits: Nonie Reyes