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Flight club

Thanks to both Emiratis and expatriates, outbound travel from the UAE is a multi-billion dollar industry.

May 13, 2010 5:59 by

The UAE’s diverse community shells out more than $6.5 billion annually on international holiday travel, a new study suggests. The huge sums involved are leading industry players to look for ways to get in on the action of this very cosmopolitan jet set.

UAE residents spend more on outbound travel than anyone else in the region, and fly more outbound trips than any other Middle Eastern country except Saudi Arabia.

“Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Cape Town, Madrid, Moscow, Muscat and Tokyo were the most popular destinations last month,” Irfan Ahmad tells Kipp.

Ahmad is the CEO of Dubai-based, an online travel guide for tourists from the Middle East. He expects a rise in global economic confidence to translate into big numbers for the travel industry in the region.

“In view of the improvement in the economic situation and stability in jobs, it is expected that there will be a significant boost in international travel from the UAE in 2010,” he says.

Following the ash cloud disruption last month, analysts are now seeing a shift away from European destinations, with more travelers looking to Asian destinations. The Shanghai World Expo, for instance, has put the city on the radar for many travelers. Meanwhile, the FIFA World Cup matches in South Africa are expected to have a similar effect.

Industry analysts and professionals are understandably keen to get a handle on regional preferences in this multi-billion dollar market, and for UAE residents they needn’t look far.

UAE nationals appreciate the affordability of “nearby Middle East destinations,” Ahmad says, “offering ease of communication, a familiar culture and halal food, while expats look at these destinations as places to visit for short breaks.”

And it seems expats are looking for less of the familiar and more of the novel when planning a holiday. They put a priority on fun, entertainment, and variety, rather than familiarity of language, food, and culture. “I want my holidays to be active ones,” explains Michel, an expat resident in the UAE. “I usually plan vacations where I can swim, snorkel, or scuba dive. I want to be active, outside, and maybe improve my skills in a sport.”

UAE travelers are also benefitting from upgrades to this lucrative industry, as enhanced air travel services appear daily. Leading UAE airlines are constantly launching new routes to novel destinations; this year alone has seen launches to Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid, and Dakar.

Meanwhile, other countries are trying to get a piece of the travel action. Qatar’s planned $14 billion airport is scheduled to open in 2011, the country’s civil aviation authority said on Sunday, and will boast a handling capacity of 24 million passengers and 1.4 million cargo tonnes a year.

Whatever the preferred destination, analysts will be keeping a close eye on this sector. As routes and airports are upgraded, so traffic will increase, and that will demand yet more upgrading. It’s a continuous, and very lucrative, circle.

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