The great summer getaway, when GCC residents head for cooler climes, usually sees many people take advantage of Schengen travel - a single visa that gives residents of Asian, Middle East and African countries access to destinations in 26 European states.

But anecdotal evidence suggests delays in visa processing of up to two months have led GCC residents to look elsewhere for their cooler summer breaks in 2022, with departures to Azerbaijan and Armenia far ahead of their 2021 figures, up 1499% and 49%, respectively.

UAE nationals do not require Schengen visas, but other GCC nationals do, as do many GCC residents, such as Indian, Pakistani, Lebanese, Filipinos and Africans, therefore visa delays have meant travel to Schengen countries has been off the table this summer for some.

Departures from GCC

Flight passenger data from ForwardKeys showed that while departures from the GCC to countries east of the Schengen area are up on last year, they are all still well below pre-pandemic levels, much more so than Schengen countries.

Azerbaijan departures from the GGC are up by 1499% in June, July and August 2022 compared with 2021, although they are still 63% behind what they were in 2019.

Departures to Armenia are up by 49% on 2021, but 9% behind pre-pandemic levels, while those to Georgia, popular with UAE residents due to its short flight time of three and a half hours, were up by 11% on last year, but still 49% down on pre-pandemic levels.

The Baltic state of Croatia, which is expected to join the Schengen visa scheme in 2023, is up 11% on 2021 but still 76% behind 2019 levels.

Summer Schengen country departures overall from the GCC are up 141% on 2021 and 26% below 2019.

Greece, which, unlike many countries, did not require a period of quarantine on arrival in summer 2021, is 8% behind pre-pandemic levels this year, and down 1% on 2021.

“While it is true that travel from Gulf countries to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Georgia, and the Schengen area overall, is substantially ahead of last year, it is still well short of the levels seen pre-pandemic,” Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said.

“Looking closer at the Schengen area we see that Greece is currently doing best in attracting visitors from the Gulf, at 8% behind pre-pandemic levels. It is followed by Spain, 10% behind; France, 14% behind; Switzerland, 16% behind; and the Netherlands, 17% behind,” he added.

Azerbaijan’s large increase in departures from the GCC may be connected to the launch of Air Arabia Abu Dhabi flights to the capital city Baku, as well as the resumption of Gulf Air flights from Bahrain to the city in December 2021, ForwardKeys said.

The data from ForwardKeys contrasted departures in June and July from the GCC, as well as confirmed tickets in August with June-August 2019 and June-August 2021 departures.

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Cleofe Maceda )