Dubai: UAE travellers are making a beeline to holiday destinations like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore as an alternative to popular European spots for the upcoming Eid Al Adha holidays in the last week of June.
Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and UAE-based travel experts are saying UAE residents are increasingly choosing countries in the Far East, and islands in the Indian Ocean, as their preferred holiday spot amid the ongoing delays in getting Schengen visa appointments, skyrocketing airfares, and airport disruptions at European and UK destinations.
Mike Ferguson, Director of Destination Marketing at Skyscanner, said: “The majority of trending destinations for Q2 and Q3 travel are in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, with Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan benefitting.” Even Sri Lanka is opening up in a big way, according to Zahara D’souza, a Dubai-based travel specialist associated with Travel Counsellors.
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In fact, according to Nick Hall, the CEO of Digital Tourism Think Tank, Albania is the only trending European destination in the top 10, which is seeing an increased search demand year-on-year for EMEA travellers. For travel to Albania, all UAE travellers must do is fill up an application for an e-visa issued online.
Robust operations, steady airfares
Since UAE carriers (flydubai, Emirates and Etihad) have ramped up their operations to most South East Asian airports, including flights to smaller cities like Krabi and Ko Samui (in Thailand), direct airfares are averaging Dh1,800 to Dh2,655 for travel from June 23 to 30. Emirates’ sister carrier, flydubai, operates direct flights to Pattaya for Dh2,655. Direct flights to Bali, however, on those dates are Dh7,065. However, travellers can fly to Jakarta for Dh3,255. Direct flights to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) are priced at Dh4,039 during the Eid holidays.
Japan, another popular destination, is seeing airfares of D3,007 (Dubai to Tokyo) and Dh3,045 (Dubai to Osaka) on one-stop flights. However, non-stop flights to Japan are pricier at Dh6,675. Flights to Vietnam are priced at Dh5,545 (Ho Chi Minh City). The fares shoot up to Dh4,300 to Dh7,600 to most South East Asian destinations from July 1 onwards, once the summer holidays kick in.
And fares have stayed largely steady to these destinations since March this year except for travel during the Eid Al Fitr holidays, where fares to Thailand, for example, had gone up to Dh3,780 and Bali fares were averaging at Dh7,650.
Low-fare carrier Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is providing a line-up of destinations with ultra-low fares starting from Dh179 for the upcoming summer. Travellers can book tickets to Maldives, Larnaca, Salalah, Santorini and Antalya for these rates. Abu Dhabi’s flag carrier Etihad has also launched an attractive sales package to Tel Aviv (Dh795), Bangkok (Dh2,495), Istanbul (Dh935), and Manila (Dh2,395).
Schengen visa delays prevail
Delays in getting visa appointments have been a constant issue for UAE travellers to Europe ever since the EU opened its doors to visitors post-pandemic. “The only people who can travel to Europe this season are travellers who already have visas,” said Ghassan Al-Khatib, a Dubai-based luxury travel expert. And despite promises from respective embassies and service providers to resolve the issue, there is no change to the status quo this holiday season.
“Travellers want convenience while planning their holidays… these ongoing issues will only divert their attention to other destinations,” he said. The only resolution being provided by service providers and European representatives in the UAE is to apply for the Schengen at least six months in advance.
In a statement to Gulf News, the EU delegation in the UAE said, “Schengen visa applicants can apply up to six months in advance of their intended travel. This allows individuals to plan their trips well ahead of time and mitigate the impact of appointment system delays.”
The statement added, “However, we understand that this continues to be a concern that the Schengen member states are coordinating to address.” While planning is crucial for a hassle-free holiday experience, this is not always possible because it is entirely up to the issuer to grant the duration of the visa. “In some cases, embassies grant visas for a year; sometimes, it is for three months or three days. Sometimes, visas are rejected as well,” said Zahara.
While one possibility for the delays could be the EU’s proposed transition to digitise and process Schengen visas online, but it will be another two years before the project becomes a reality. “It is also possible that European embassies failed to anticipate the growing demand among UAE expatriates to travel abroad,” said Zahara.