Ramadan and Eid al Fitr air travel is still far behind pre-pandemic levels for most GCC countries, and while inbound travel has recovered faster, it is still behind pre-Covid levels overall.

The numbers of travellers planning trips out of the GCC during the second half of the Holy Month and during Eid al-Fitr is still lagging behind 2019 in all states, apart from Bahrain, which saw 2% more trips out of the country than the 2019 equivalent period, and 17% more than during 2022.

The UAE is 6% behind 2019 and 13% behind 2022, while Saudi Arabia is still 44% behind 2019 levels but up 7% on 2022.

However, travel to the GCC during Ramadan and Eid is recovering faster, down 12% on 2019 overall, but up in Oman by 48%, the UAE by 47%, Qatar by 39% and Bahrain by 16%. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s inbound travel for the period is down 40% and 43% respectively.

Travel from some countries to the GCC has soared in comparison with pre-pandemic levels for the second half of Ramadan and Eid, with Italy seeing the largest increase on 2019, at 189%, Russia 185%, France 145%, Switzerland 137% and Saudi Arabia 89%.

The fastest growing destinations for those leaving the GCC during the second half of Ramadan and Eid this year are the Maldives, up 177% on 2019, Qatar, up 91%, Thailand, up 65%, Netherlands, up 37% and Pakistan, up 25%.

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said: “Ramadan travel this year is still far behind the heights it reached before the pandemic in 2019. 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.”

Looking further ahead, as of 31st March, ForwardKeys data showed air travel bookings leaving the GCC for the three weeks following the Eid period were a long way behind the equivalent period in 2019 at 67% behind, whereas they are 17% ahead of 2022 equivalent levels.

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Seban Scaria)