SINGAPORE, 22 July 2021: Doha seized the initiative over
Dubai during the first half of 2021 to take the lead as the top travel hub in
the Middle East, according to the latest research from ForwardKeys,
In the period 1 January to 30 June, the volume of air
tickets issued for travel via Doha was 18% higher than it was through Dubai;
and that relationship looks set to continue. Current bookings for the second
half of the year through Doha are 17% higher than through Dubai.
At the start of the year, air traffic through Doha was at
77% of Dubai; but it quickly reached 100% for the first time during the week
commencing 27 January.
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% of
pre-blockade arrivals in the first half of 2017, and Dubai to Doha, 21%. In
addition, new connections with Seattle, San Francisco, and Abidjan, were
established in December 2020, January 2021 and June 2021, respectively.
The major existing routes which have shown the strongest
growth compared to pre-pandemic levels (H1 2021 vs H1 2019), by the number of
passengers arriving in Qatar, are: Sao Paulo, up 137%, Kiev, up by 53%, Dhaka,
up 29% and Stockholm, up 6.7%. There have also been notable increases in seat
capacity between Doha and Johannesburg, up 25%, Male, up 21%, and Lahore up
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% less than pre-pandemic levels, and the majority, 51.7%,
of it is allocated to reinstated routes to/from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the
The last major factor, which has given Qatar an edge over
Dubai, has been its reaction to the pandemic. During the height of the COVID-19
crisis, many routes in and out of Doha remained operational, with the result
that Doha became a major hub for repatriation flights – most notably to
Johannesburg and Montreal.
A comparison of market share during the first half of 2021
against the first half of 2019 reveals that Doha has substantially improved its
position against Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Currently, hub traffic is divided 33%
Doha, 30% Dubai, 9% Abu Dhabi; previously, it was 21% Doha, 44% Dubai, 13% Abu
ForwardKeys VP Insights Olivier Ponti commented: “Without
the blockade, which encouraged the establishment of new routes as a strategy to
replace lost traffic, perhaps we would not have seen Doha charging past Dubai.
So, it seems that the seeds of Doha’s relative success were, ironically, sown
by the adverse actions of its neighbours. However, one needs to bear in mind
that flights through the Middle East during H1 2021 were still 81% below
pre-pandemic levels. So, as the recovery gathers pace, the picture could change