Travel, Tourism & Hospitality

ME travel sector to grow by 40% by 2026: study

The Middle East travel sector is expected to grow by 40% between 2022 and 2026, mainly led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), said a report.

The Middle East Travel Market Report by Insight Out Consulting, a prominent hospitality consultancy with a reputation for leading-edge market research, together with Phocuswright, the world’s leading travel research authority, to conduct the research of this report that highlighted key shifts within the industry.

The latest Phocuswright report provides a comprehensive view of the Middle East travel market, including detailed market sizing and projections, distribution trends, analysis of major travel segments (air, hotel, car rental), key developments, and more.

It focuses on four key travel markets within the region – the UAE, KSA, Egypt, and Qatar.

Key Takeaways

United Arab Emirates

The UAE was one of the first destinations to fully recover its travel and tourism activities and is primed and ready to capitalise on the growing demand for travel and tourism, maintaining its leading position as the largest travel market in the Middle East.

Overall, the travel market in the UAE witnessed significant growth in 2022, a 101% year-on-year increase from 2021, and is forecasted to grow by a further 10% in 2023.

This growth is largely supported by the national government, which has invested significant funds and launched several initiatives such as the UAE Tourism Strategy, which aims to attract investments worth AED 100 billion and host 40 million hotel guests by 2031.

The UAE airline sector is also one of the most developed in the world, with Emirates, Etihad Airways and FlyDubai being among the top 50 airlines in the world.

Furthermore, the UAE’s hospitality sector is also rapidly expanding and is expected to witness the number of hotel rooms reaching over 200,000 keys by 2030, driven by the increasing number of tourists visiting the UAE and the growing demand for luxury hotels.

Saudi Arabia

KSA is the fastest-growing travel market in the region, with a 107% increase in 2022 gross bookings compared to 2021 figures and is forecasted to grow by a whopping 65% by 2026.

The Saudi government’s alignment with the private sector to develop mega projects such as the Red Sea Project and NEOM is expected to attract millions of tourists to Saudi Arabia in the coming years.

The country recently revealed its plans to invest $800 billion in its tourism sector over the next 10 years, as part of its Vision 2030.

Additionally, the government has also invested in improving critical infrastructure, such as airports, roads and hotels in order to realise this vision.

Saudi Arabia has also eased visa requirements, which has significantly impacted the number of leisure tourists coming into the country.


Qatar’s tourism sector witnessed a dramatic recovery in 2022, driven by the FIFA World Cup event, the continued expansion of Qatar's infrastructure, and the increasing popularity of the country as a leisure destination.

The Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC) is investing heavily in the country's tourism sector, with plans to develop new hotels, attractions and cultural experiences, and has forecasted to welcome six to seven million visitors annually by 2030.

Qatar Airways stands as a testament to this vision and has worked to continually expand its global footprint to support the country’s tourism sector.


While Egypt's tourism levels are still below pre-pandemic levels, the country has witnessed significant improvement since 2020.

This recovery is driven by a number of factors, including the depreciation of the Egyptian pound, and the government's efforts to promote the country as a safe and attractive tourist destination.

Domestic tourism has been on the rise in Egypt in recent years, as Egyptians become more interested in exploring their own country.

Additionally, Egypt’s wide variety of natural attractions has also made it well-suited for adventure tourism, which is another growing trend in the region.

Digital Maturity and Transformation

2022 was a remarkable year for online travel bookings in the Middle East, as the region witnessed a staggering 103% increase in online booking values compared to 2021.

This growth has been largely driven by the increase in tech-savvy travellers, the increased adoption of customer-facing tech solutions such as AI chatbots, mobile apps, and loyalty programmes, and the integration of more advanced online back-end systems, such as booking engines and distribution channels, by travel suppliers, particularly hotels.

With digital maturity and transformation on the rise in the Middle East and online penetration continuing its ascent, the online booking market is experiencing rapid expansion.

Online bookings are anticipated to account for 50% of the market's bookings in the UAE and KSA by 2026.

In this fast-paced and highly competitive market, where guest experiences and operational efficiency are paramount, it is crucial for players to continually maintain, optimize and adapt their technology stack.

With a 15-year legacy of empowering the region’s travel and hospitality industry, Insight Out Consultancy has a dedicated team of subject matter consultants who conduct primary data collection and executive interviews in the hospitality, travel, and tourism sectors, to answer pressing questions and uncover insights that drive industry evolution. Over the years, the company has assisted a multitude of private and public businesses and organisations including Amadeus, Jumeirah, Seera, and various GCC Tourism bodies in developing data-driven in-depth research in the Middle East.

Commenting on this report, Li Hawkins, Managing Director of Insight Out Consultancy, said: “Our research conducted with Phocuswright continues to yield invaluable data and insights into the Middle East’s fast-paced and ever-evolving hospitality and travel market.

“The sector is undergoing a significant shift, including adapting to the rapid digital transformation and the rise of experiential travel. Visitors to the Middle East are no longer content with generic tourist experiences; they are increasingly seeking deeper, more meaningful interactions that reflect the richness and diversity of the region's history and traditions.” – TradeArabia News Service