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Biking in Gothenburg (photo: Emelie Asplund/

Sweden to reap EU-GCC travel boom

European visitors to the Gulf countries will leap up 29% by 2023, a report predicts, while Sweden will be popular for Gulf travellers.

Arrivals from Europe to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states will increase by as much as 29% between now and 2023, driven by new and direct flight routes, a new report predicts.

The data, released ahead of Arabian Travel Market 2019, which takes place at the Dubai World Trade Centre from April 28 to May 1, also points to a growing number of millennial and middle-class travellers plus competitive air fares.

There will be 8.3 million visits to the region by EU residents in 2023, 1.9 million more than in 2018, the Colliers International research says.

Looking at the outbound market potential, GCC travel to EU countries is expected to grow even more, by 50%, with 6 million GCC residents projected to visit Europe in four years’ time.

The Colliers data indicates that Saudi Arabia will lead this growth with 2.98 million residents travelling to Europe in 2023, followed by 1.73 million UAE residents, 600,000 Kuwaitis, 340,000 Bahrainis and 210,000 Omanis.

While part of this growth can be attributed to large UAE and Saudi Arabian expatriate populations, other factors are at play too.

The UK, France, Switzerland and Sweden will be the top European destinations for GCC nationals to visit, Colliers predicts, with the UK for example expected to account for 890,000 trips by 2023.

“Saudi Arabia is predicted to retain its position as the largest outbound travel market destination in the GCC, with an additional 1.2 million trips forecasted per year by 2023 – a 70% growth on 2018 trips,” says Danielle Curtis, the Arabian Travel Market’s exhibition director.

“Driving this growth will be the rising spending power of both millennials and females in the kingdom.”

She adds: “The relaxation of tourist visa requirements and GCC residents’ growing interest in medical tourism is encouraging travel to countries such as Switzerland and Sweden.”

New routes
In 2018, Emirates introduced new flights to London Stansted, Edinburgh, Lyon and Paris, Etihad to Barcelona, flydubai to Helsinki, Catania, Thessaloniki, Krakow, Dubrovnik and Zagreb, and Air Arabia to Prague. In Saudi Arabia, new routes from destinations like Vienna and Malaga were also added.

“The UAE and Saudi Arabia are expected to continue to be the preferred GCC destinations for European tourists, welcoming a projected 6.15 million and 1.11 million visitors respectively by 2023,” Curtis said. “Oman will follow with 720,000 visitors, while Bahrain will welcome 310,000 and Kuwait 140,000.”

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