French hospitality group Accor, one of the biggest hotels operator in the Middle East and Africa, expects the hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to rebound from a coronavirus-inflicted slowdown within 18 to 24 months once aviation operations in the region begin.
Pent-up demand for business and tourism in the Middle East will drive the recovery in the two Gulf states, Mark Willis, chief executive of Accor MEA told The National in an interview. The recovery is likely to be at par with the bounce back seen after the 2008-9 global financial crisis, aided by a pick-up in religious tourism in Saudi Arabia and economic activity related to the Expo 2020 in the UAE.
Other GCC markets, may take longer to come back to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, Mr. Willis said as it took these markets 36 months to fully recover after the financial crisis.
Across the region, “all destinations would not bounce back as quickly as the key destinations for the sure,” Mr. Willis said. “From a broad perspective, 18 to 24 months to get back to where we were in 2019, I would say, is a realistic target, not least because places like Dubai have been so wonderfully resilient over the years.”
There are some encouraging signs of a revival in the aviation industry as airlines announce plans to gradually resume scheduled flights, he said. “It is about to restart.”
Despite the headwinds, Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul airline, plans a gradual return to operations in the coming months. The airline resumed regular passenger flights to nine destinations – London, Frankfurt, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Chicago, Toronto, Sydney, and Melbourne – from May 21.
The flights are the first regular, non-repatriation trips since March 24.
The pandemic has hit airlines, tourism and the hospitality sector particularly hard worldwide, forcing carriers to go from growth to survival mode within a matter of months.
The outbreak has led to a near-total shutdown of global travel leading to expectations that it will cut airlines’ passenger revenue by more than half, or about $314 billion (Dh1.15 trillion) this year, according to the International Air Transport Association. The global aviation industry body estimates about 25 million jobs in the sector are at risk and has called on governments to step up their support to carriers.
The hospitality sector was equally hit hard suffering near-paralysis across the globe, as business and leisure travel came to a grinding halt amid lockdowns and movement restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The World Travel and Tourism Council said it expects about 75 million jobs will be lost in the sector worldwide as a result of the outbreak and the loss in tourism revenue would mean a $2.1 trillion hit to the global economy in 2020.
The speed of the revival of hospitality businesses will depend on how fast the aviation sector recovers and airlift operations within the region start. However, what can dramatically expedite the pace of a bounce-back is the discovery of a vaccine to combat the pandemic.