Dubai: Harlene Ramos couldn’t hide her excitement when her parents decided to visit her for a month in December. She thought it’s going to be a perfect time for family bonding, especially since she will be giving birth to her second child, and they will be celebrating Christmas and New Year together.
However, when she started planning the itinerary for her guests, she realised that the visit was going to create a hole in her wallet.
Ramos calculated that her parents’ one-month vacation in Dubai would set the household budget back by Dh16,790. The visa fees and tickets alone would cost Dh10,000.
The expatriate from the Philippines says she wants her guests to enjoy Dubai and she plans to take them out on a desert safari and visit Wild Wadi and Ferrari World. Then there will be trips to other tourist spots, the malls and restaurants.
“We want our parents to enjoy Dubai while visiting us,” she says.
Fortunately, her mother and father offered to pay for the visa fees and tickets, so Ramos and her husband are left with only a little over Dh6,000 to raise. It’s still a huge amount to contend with in these times of austerity, and considering that Ramos has child delivery expenses to think about.
“We’re currently saving up for my parents’ vacation and that entails doing a lot of financial sacrifices, such as cutting down on food budget, less entertainment, less eating outs,” Ramos, who works as a customer service agent, says. “We do manage. But for now, we no longer go out as often as we used to. We’ll just do it when our parents get here,” she adds.
With Dubai rising in popularity as a tourist and expatriate destination, residents in the UAE get a regular dose of relatives and friends stopping by to visit.
Premjit Bangara, travel manager at Sharaf Travel, says an average family or expatriate in Dubai hosts visitors about two to three times a year.
There are three strong drivers of this trend. “For one, the government of Dubai has done a fantastic job in promoting the country. Also, if you look at the map in terms of airline connectivity patterns, Dubai sits right in the centre that makes it a very convenient gateway for people coming from different countries. The other strong point is that there are many expatriates in this part of the world who have the means to bring their relatives and friends for vacation,” Bangara says.
But while the influx of visitors is good for the country’s economy, the oft-repeated remark from hosts across the UAE is that entertaining guests can be an expensive affair.
“It is indeed an expensive time, and is often repeated during the winter months, as many people have many visitors from abroad,” says Steve Gregory, managing partner at Holborn Assets.
As a disc jockey who gets to meet new friends all the time, Nthayi Tshehle from South Africa, has quite a long line of eager visitors. In a year, he entertains friends and relatives from abroad about seven or eight times. “I’ll never know when people come, sometimes I’d get a call or do a favour for someone I know,” he says.
It doesn’t mean he shoulders all the costs, but in a year, he tends to be more generous and is likely to bankroll a visit two or three times. “When close friends and family members come to visit, I try to pay for everything,” he says.
“It’s really expensive to host, especially when your guests are visiting for the first time. If they haven’t been to Dubai before, they will want to see everything and as (a gracious host), you try to show them everything to impress them,” he adds.
When entertaining a group of five people, Tshehle’s spending on meals at home can easily reach Dh900 a day. “They always want to try different food, so every day, I’d order lunch and dinner from a different place. When we have to go out, it becomes more expensive. I remember one night I spent close to Dh2,000 for three adults and two kids,” he recalls.
Last April, Tshehle had three close friends over with their two children in tow. He took his South African guests to the Atlantis Waterpark, desert safari, Ferrari World and Burj Khalifa, among others. The trip to Ferrari World alone set him back to nearly Dh2,000.
Since his visitors preferred to order different takeaways, the meals cost him around Dh400 per day. Spending on fuel reached Dh400 while the grocery tab for the ten-day consumption amounted to Dh800. “By the time they left, I think I used about Dh10,000,” he says.
Later in June, Tshehle had a few old colleagues from Brazil, India and South Africa who stayed for five days. The final bill ran up to about Dh6,000. He chauffeured his guests to many popular spots all over the UAE, spending a considerable amount of money on petrol. They did a desert safari, went up the Burj Khalifa and had fun in Ferrari World, where he spent more than Dh1,000 on premium tickets.
Neil Stewart, senior financial planner at Acuma-Independent Financial Advice, prides himself on being a generous host and often spends at least twice as much as he usually would when entertaining guests. His visiting friends and relatives would normally spend a day (if they have a short lay-over on a long-haul flight), a long weekend of between three and four days or around a week.
When he has guests staying for a long weekend, spending per person would reach Dh2,900. A big chunk of the amount, roughly Dh1,500, would go to meals. Sightseeing would cost around Dh600; sports and hobbies, Dh450; groceries, Dh200 and transportation, Dh150.
Entertaining guests doesn’t have to be elaborate and expensive all the time. When friends or relatives are in town, Gregory includes simple activities in the itinerary so that the expenses don’t spin out of control.
Instead of introducing his guests to some fancy, overpriced restaurant upon arrival, Gregory is more than eager to take them to the old part of Dubai, Creekside, where they can enjoy a particularly cheap meal and take in the local atmosphere.
“This is normally in the family room of a curry house in Bur Dubai, and sets the scene for how local people live.
“In the dirham souvenir shops next door, people are amazed at how little things cost, and this helps the visitors realise that it does not need to be enormously expensive to [enjoy something of] great quality and [is] very entertaining. A ride on an Abra rounds off the evening,” he says.