Traffic picks up in Middle East's busiest airport as Covid concerns ease
Dubai's main airport on Thursday reported its busiest quarter in two years as the rebound in international travel gains pace, with its chief executive predicting Dubai International could see pre-Covid figures by the end of 2024.
The Gulf hub, one of the world's leading gateways for international travel, handled 13.6 million passengers in the January-March period, more than double the 5.7 million in the same period last year.
It was the best performance since 17.8 million passengers in the first quarter of 2020, before the pandemic shut most international borders and forced airlines to halt flights.
The state-owned operator now expects 58.3 million passengers will pass through the airport this year, compared with an initial forecast of about 56 million.
"It does signal that we can be more optimistic about the future and hope to regain pre-Covid levels maybe as early as 2024," Chief Executive Paul Griffiths told Reuters in Dubai.
Other airports in the Middle East are expected to see a rise in traffic and see tourists return.
Tourist-reliant Dubai was badly hit by the downturn in travel during the Covid-19 epidemic, as were other Middle East states such as Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.
The recovery at the airport, the hub of airline Emirates, continues to be driven by point-to-point traffic, which Griffiths said currently accounts for about 70% of all passengers.
Before the pandemic, the airport, which only handles international flights, had an even passenger traffic split with those who transit through to board flights to other destinations.
Griffiths said it was possible point-to-point would remain the larger contributor to passenger traffic flows until markets in Asia, such as China, lift Covid-19 restrictions.
"We have to be a little bit cautious about the rate of recovery particularly for the transit market but overall we are pretty bullish."
Griffiths also said passengers could soon start seeing more expensive air fares due to high oil prices and inflation, though doubted that would dent demand built up during the pandemic.