• Travelers from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will spend more on travel overall in 2023 – with most planning on more holidays as the sector continues a strong recovery
  • Wellbeing-led holidays, alongside luxury, set to be key trends for 2023
  • Hybrid working will see workers log on whilst away to avoid taking annual leave
  • Price, cleanliness and location are now the most important considerations when booking holiday accommodation
  • Sustainability is also now important for most holidaymakers

Travelers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are planning to spend more on holidays in 2023, with most in both markets (93%) planning to go away, and more than two thirds in each market (66% in Saudi Arabia and 69% in the UAE planning more breaks than in 2022.

Luxury will also be a key theme, with around a quarter planning on staying in luxury accommodation whilst away.

The increase in trips and spending is, in part, thanks to more confidence that 2023 holiday plans won’t be impacted by Covid, and the fact that travel remains a priority for Middle Eastern consumers. Sustainability also plays an important role in 2023 travel plans, whilst ‘having a break from it all’ is key for holidaymakers.

These are the findings of Marriott Bonvoy’s 2023 Travel Trends research, which analysed the 2023 travel plans of 14,000 travelers across Europe and the Middle East.

Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Wellbeing Warriors Seeking Authentic Travel

Wellbeing-led holidays that allow people to get away from it all will be the predominant type of break those in the Middle East go on. More than six in ten from the UAE (61%) plan to, whilst the figure is even higher for Saudi Arabia (73%).

Authentic travel is also key, with many wanting to immerse themselves in a complete change of culture, with over half in both markets (55% in the UAE and 56% in Saudi Arabia) wanting to explore new destinations and cultures. To truly soak up local culture, 30% of those from the UAE and 27% of those from Saudi Arabia plan on taking an ‘extended holiday’ of three weeks or more in one destination.

Of those going on an extended holiday, 39% from Saudi Arabia and 37% from the UAE say that it is the first time they will be doing so.

Forty-eight percent of those from the UAE and 44% from Saudi Arabia going on extended holidays highlighted that being able to work remotely allows them to take a longer holiday without having to take annual leave for the whole break.

In fact, hybrid and remote working has had a significant impact on travel plans in 2023. Nearly a third of those from the UAE (31%) and 23% from Saudi Arabia plan to take a ‘work-away holiday’ – where they will continue to log on and work whilst traveling, thus allowing them to experience a new place without taking annual leave.

Saudi Arabia, Al Madinah Region, AlUla or Al Ula, Nabatean Tomb In Hegra (Madain Saleh) Archaeologic Site, Jabal AlAhmar tomb

Travelers Expect a Premium Experience

In 2023, the majority of travelers plan to spend more on their holidays compared to the previous year – 74% in the UAE and 69% in Saudi Arabia say that they will.

Around a quarter in each market (26% in the UAE and 25% in Saudi Arabia) plan to splash out and stay in luxury accommodation, whilst all-inclusive resorts will also be popular (17% in the UAE and 12% in Saudi Arabia). As a result, consumers from the UAE and Saudi Arabia have high expectations with regards to their holiday accommodation with cost, cleanliness and location the three most important factors.

Accompanying booking data from Marriott Bonvoy reveals how resilient luxury demand in the Middle East is, with bookings from April this year for luxury properties up 13% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Safeguarding 2023 Spend on Holiday and Savvy Traveling Tips

With more than nine in ten respondents planning to go away, the majority of travelers are clearly trying to ring fence spending for holidays. Overall 66% of those planning to go away in Saudi Arabia and 69% in UAE say they will be going on more holidays in 2023 compared to the previous year, whilst far fewer say they will be traveling less frequently, suggesting a continued upwards trajectory for the industry post pandemic. This is even more positive in light of data from Marriott Bonvoy which show that bookings in the Middle East from April this year were back to pre-pandemic levels, and are up 30% versus last year.

The data also shows a very strong return to confidence when it comes to bookings at the end of 2022 for holidays into 2023. In October 2022, bookings from the UAE for 61-180 days ahead were up 364% compared to the same month in 2021. Meanwhile in November they were up 276%. Looking at the KSA, In October 2022, bookings for 61-180 days ahead were up 321% compared to the same month in 2021. Meanwhile in November they were up 121%.

Travelers are being smarter in the ways they are planning to save so they can safeguard their premium holiday experience – for example, to ensure they can still go to the destination they want, 42% from the UAE and 43% from Saudi Arabia plan to travel at different times of the year.

However, just 27% in the UAE and 26% in Saudi Arabia say they will look to compromise by opting for cheaper accommodation.

The Sustainability Factor

Sustainability is now a key factor when it comes to travel plans, with 85% in the UAE and 80% in Saudi Arabia saying environmental considerations now have some impact on their arrangements.

Forty-three percent in the UAE go as far as to say environmental considerations define their travel plans and they will only spend money with companies that have a positive environmental impact, whilst the figure is 38% in Saudi Arabia.

When it comes to the destinations they plan to visit in 2023, Turkey will be the most popular destination for those from the UAE (27%) followed by a staycation in the UAE (26%) and trips to the UK (20%). Meanwhile for those from Saudi Arabia, staycations will be top (33%) followed by Turkey (29%) and trips to the nearby UAE (27%).

Neal Jones, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Marriott International – Europe, Middle East & Africa: “Travel trends for 2023 are more interesting than ever due to the unique situation we are in, as we look ahead to the way consumers plan to travel this year. What comes across very clearly is a resurgence in the sector based in large part on increased confidence amongst travelers, with most planning to spend more than last year and the demand for luxury with travelers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia remaining strong. This clearly shows great optimism, but also that people will be ring-fencing holiday spending.

“We are also seeing other, existing trends come into sharper focus. I’m delighted to see the priority that so many travelers are putting on sustainability, with most taking it into consideration and many shaping their holidays around this. The pandemic also hastened the increase in remote working and it is clear that many plan to take advantage of the flexibility, using the opportunity to get away without taking annual leave.”

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