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Russian destinations have been hugely popular with UAE tourists in recent years. This summer could thus be crucial in ensuring that flow continues. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: With aviation hubs like London and New York banning or reducing Russia-bound flights, Dubai could become the hub of choice for passengers headed for Russia. Such a transition, however, will be a gradual one.

Despite the conflict, Russia is eager to market itself as a safe destination for Middle East tourists and even organized an online conference for regional stakeholders on Monday (February 28). “The high season will start in summer - I sincerely hope that tourist from Middle East will come to Moscow,” said a Russia-based hotel operator. “I hope that the situation will be resolved by that time.”

Tickets from Dubai to Moscow can be had for under Dh1,000 on certain flights as demand takes a direct hit from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Rates on the Dubai to St. Petersburg, Russia’s second biggest city remains on the pricier side with carriers charging Dh2,000 or more.

Emirates and flydubai are operating flights to Moscow with fares in the range of Dh1,000-Dh2,000. Travel agents say that outbound tourism from the UAE to Russia and some of the other popular destinations such as Georgia is at a standstill after the UAE Embassy in Kyiv issued an advisory earlier this month calling on UAE Nationals to postpone travel to Ukraine.

“We haven’t seen any Russia bookings in the last two to three weeks,” said a spokesperson for Regal Tours Worldwide. Another Dubai-based travel agent suggested that in the absence of tourists, the current flights are probably being used by diplomats flying to and from Russia.

A spokesperson for Dubai Link Tours said many travellers had called to cancel their bookings and that the situation was bound to continue.

Russia has grown to become the second-largest source market for Dubai’s travel and tourism sector in 2021, climbing from eighth in last year’s rankings, according to a Colliers report. “UAE is also likely to retain its status as the preferred GCC destination for Russian visitors over the longer term, accounting for more than 90 per cent of inbound arrivals in 2026.”

In addition to the high number of inbound visitors to the UAE, the average spend of Russian travellers is expected to grow significantly, to about $1,280 per person during this period in the years up to 2026. “Visitors from Russia are playing and will continue to play an important role for our region’s travel sector, especially when it comes to the UAE,” said Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME – Arabian Travel Market, in a report.

Flights impacted

Emirates said that flights operated by its partner airlines – flydubai and S7 (Siberia Airlines) – have suspended certain flights to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus due to the closure of airspace. flydubai has suspended flights to the following destinations: Kiev, Odessa, Krasnodar, Rostov, and Minsk.

S7 has suspended flights to these places: Rostov, Krasnodar, Anapa, Gelendzhik, Elista, Stavropol, Belgorod, Bryansk, Orel, Kursk, Voronezh and Simferopol.

Aviation takes another hit

While sanctions placed on Russia will affect various sectors, aviation will be among the biggest losers. As it is, the closing of Ukrainian airspace is forcing airlines to take longer routes at a time when oil is at over $100 a barrel.

Aviation data firm Cirium said that aircraft lessors may be impacted as a result of the widespread economic sanctions, which could result in operators’ ability to pay monthly rentals and maintenance reserves. Lessors domiciled outside of Russia currently have some 515 commercial jets and turboprops leased to airline operators in Russia, with an indicative market value of almost $10 billion, said Cirium.

“That represents some 3.2 per cent of the overall value of the global lease portfolio today. Hence, the conflict could turn out to be exceedingly bad news for lessors.”