In the battle to be the pre-eminent travel hub in the Middle East, the latest research from ForwardKeys reveals that in the first half of 2021, Doha has surpassed Dubai as the busiest airport in the Middle East.
From 1 January to 30 June, the volume of air tickets issued for travel via Doha was 18 per cent higher than it was through Dubai; that relationship looks set to continue. Current bookings for the second half of the year through Doha are 17 per cent higher than through Dubai.
At the start of the year, air traffic through Doha was at 77 per cent of Dubai; but it quickly reached 100 per cent for the first time during the week commencing 27 January.
Lifting the Flight Blockade
The major factor driving the trend was the lifting, in January, of the blockade of flights to and from Qatar, which was imposed in June 2017 by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism – an accusation strongly denied by Qatar.
As soon as it was imposed, the blockade had an immediate negative impact on flights to and from Doha.
For example, Qatar Airways was forced to drop 18 destinations from its network. In addition, various flights through Doha suffered extended journey times, as planes had to make detours to avoid blockading counties’ air space.
The destination and its major carrier, Qatar Airways, did not respond to the blockade by cutting back; instead, it opened 24 new routes to utilise what would otherwise have been idle aircraft.
Since January 2021, five routes, Cairo, Dammam, Dubai, Jeddah and Riyadh, to/from Doha have been reopened and traffic on other routes has grown.
The reinstated routes which have made the most substantial relative contribution to visitor arrivals are Dammam to Doha, reaching 30 per cent of pre-blockade arrivals in the first half of 2017, and Dubai to Doha, 21 per cent. In addition, new connections with Seattle, San Francisco, and Abidjan, were established in December 2020, January 2021 and June 2021 respectively.
A deeper analysis of seat capacity shows that in the coming quarter, Q3 2021, seat capacity between Doha and its neighbours in the Middle East will be only 5.6 per cent less than pre-pandemic levels and the majority, 51.7 per cent, of it is allocated to reinstated routes to/from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.