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Gaza’s conflict impact on GCC destinations Perception of Security

Unrest and conflicts impact travel intention and destinations’ reputation, even those that are not at the core of them. To address this hard-news topic at WTTC April 2024 Members’ Call, Mabrian dives deep into how Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries cushion the reputation impact caused by the armed conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Mabrian analysed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries’ Perception of Security Index (PSI); namely Bahrain, Qatar, Omar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, starting from July 1st, 2023 to April 1st, 2024, and studying the index evolution from a global perspective, as well as for key outbound reference markets (Spain, France, Italy and Germany; US and UK). This index reflects the perception of inbound markets regarding safety and security in a given destination, that is to say, the level of sensitivity to all factors that build the perception of what is a safe destination and what is not.

1. From global stability to challenging recovery: The current situation in the Gaza Strip has its reflection in two clear drops in the evolution of the global PSI curve, that coincide in time with the aftermath of both Hamas’ attack (from 90.16 to 82.26) and Israeli military operations (from 84.19 to 82.21). Prior to this moment, the Global PSI for this region was stable and, even though it is tending to stabilize, it has not bounced back to the levels reached before the Hamas-Israel crisis. Interestingly, these PSI declines are more drastic in the markets analysed, demonstrating a more sensitiveness to security perception that the global average. The consequences of recent air strikes from Iran to Israel (April 13th, 2024) and Israeli counterstrike (April 19th, 2024), are yet to be seen in further analysis.

2. United States: dramatic drop and unstable recovery. Already unsteady and below the global figures, PSI from the American market dropped dramatically since the beginning of the crisis, reaching at the lowest a PSI of 9,19 points out of 100 possible in late November 2023. In fact, such drop was 60 points deeper in average when compared to the Global PSI levels, making the US the most sensitive market to safety and security in this context, being 53% under the global perception average, followed by France and Germany (45% under). Nevertheless, the trend shows an improvement of the PSI performance, up to 69.16 points, but still unstable, fluctuating in a margin between 20 to 30 points in its peaks, below the global PSI.

3. United Kingdom: the sharpest drop in Europe and shy recovery. United Kingdom’s PSI on the GCC countries was volatile but slightly higher than the US prior to the beginning of the crisis. Along with Italy and Germany, the UK has seen the sharpest drop in PSI for this region (hitting 0 points right after Hamas’ attack, in mid-October). Still unsteady, PSI from the British market bounced back up to 78.96 points in early November, registering a shy, wobbly recovery, fluctuating around 10 to 15 points under the Global PSI levels, but reaching similar levels than prior to the crisis by mid-March 2024, close to 80 points.

4. Europe, a reflection of different sensitivity levels to safety. Spain, France, Italy and Germany have diverse sensitivities to safety and security issues in this region, as their PSIs show.

  • Spain’s decrease of the PSI in the highest point of the crisis dropped from 92.64 to 44.62, but was not as sharp as in other European countries; in fact, it is the less sensitive country to this issue in regard to GCC destinations’ reputation, with an overall 20% difference respect to the global PSI.
  • Recovery shows better signs than neighbour countries, even surpassing the Global PSI levels at certain stages, with over 94 points, while still is not steady, fluctuating an average of 40 points.
  • Before the crisis, French PSI in regard to GCC countries was already showing acute fluctuations. After Hamas’ attacks, the PSI dropped 62 points to 26.38 points, reaching even lower PSIs as the crisis unfolded: in fact, in late November 2023, January and mid-March 2024, PSI reached its lowest levels, hitting 21.01, 26.49 and 17.26 points, respectively; and is struggling to recover, showing yet no signs of bouncing back.
  • For the Italian market, GCC countries were considered extremely safe prior to Hamas’ attacks, with attaining 100 points for several weeks straight. Hamas’ attacks and its aftermath hit hard on PSI, that reached 0 points and fluctuated 50 points in average in the weeks that followed until mid-December 2023, showing a positive recovery during Christmas break, reaching again 100 points. Even though PSI decreased close to 60 points in January 2024, is showing an unstable path to recovery that can be easily altered by the crisis developments.
  • As in the case of Italy, Germany had a positive security perception of GCC countries prior to Hamas’ attacks (with a 100 points), but the impact on the PSI became evident some weeks before them, dropping up over 63 points. The immediate effect of the crisis in Gaza pushed PSI down to 22.53 in mid-October 2023, and to zero in early November 2023, and by early 2024, PSI started showing an unstable trend to recovery, with punctual moments in which PSI was above the global average. 

The Gaza Strip conflict proves to affect the safety perception for GCC destinations, as the Global PSI is still 6% below previous levels. Moreover, some key markets are more sensitive to safety and security perception, so GCC destinations should manage these fluctuations by putting in place countermeasures to tackle any potential impact on demand: that is why it is vital to constantly monitor the destination’s perception and count on contingency strategic plans adapted to each key market, ready to be implemented to shield destination’s brand perception.

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