Stock Dubai skyline
UAE's hotels have unleashed a wave of promotions ahead of the December 2 National Day weekend. Early indications suggest a fair degree of interest for these offers. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Staycation offers for the December 2 National Day weekend will do more for UAE’s hotels rather than any sudden increase in bookings from the UK in the last two weeks of next month. That’s because the current lockdown in the UK adds further uncertainty to travel plans.

Hotels have started offering staycation offers for the five-day weekend. Especially the family-focused properties rather than the luxury hotels.

Ritz-Carlton JBR and Atlantis on the Palm have introduced packages that allow young children dine for free. At the Ritz, kids also get daily access to a children’s pool and water slide.

Staycation deals helped UAE’s hospitality industry get through the summer without taking much damage. However, tourists will be necessary to pack higher occupancy numbers.

“Although the UAE has a strong domestic market for staycations, the broader return of passenger traffic and international leisure/corporate travel will be paramount to a strong recovery,” said James Wrenn, regional Associate Director - Hospitality Services at Colliers International.

Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah are expected to capture strong demand during the December staycation season.

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Not much of a year-end

“Although lockdowns have been re-introduced in many countries, the effect on UAE hotel bookings is hard to determine,” said Wrenn. “Especially as bookings were already low for inbound travel for the rest of the year due to COVID-19.”

If not for the lockdown, things could have gotten better for the local hospitality industry. Typically at this time of the year, UK travelers represent a significant portion of guests at local hotels. Since November 14, flight services have been operating on an “air corridor” basis, which means passengers don’t have to go through quarantine.

But the lockdown clearly does play spoilsport.

Partial benefits at best

Hotels returning to pre-COVID-19 performance will be tied to the airline industry and airlines working back to full capacity. However,

Industry sources reckon the UK-UAE ‘no quarantine’ deal is not likely to push travel numbers up by much. More so as hopes swirl about a possible vaccine breakthrough, which will have prospective travelers think they are better off waiting for one rather than take needless risks now.

The air corridor move “will help fill some leisure seats as folks in the UK look for vacation destinations during lockdown,” said George Ferguson, senior aerospace and airline analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “I don’t expect a lot of demand due to the corridor.

“Dubai was really built as a hub between Asia and Europe and that business doesn’t return with this agreement. With infections rising, many [potential] travellers are concerned about catching COVID-19 during the journey which will keep many away.

“The corridor will drive some traffic - but I expect the numbers will be small.”

Not given up on hoping

UK arrivals to the UAE had grown at a rate of 6.3 per cent between 2013 to 2019, according to GlobalData. Ralph Hollister, Travel and Tourism Analyst at the consultancy, says UK numbers could yet surprise many before the year is out.

“The UK travel market does not have a great deal of options to choose from when selecting an outbound destination currently, which will play into the UAE's hands,” said Hollister. “Additionally, the guarantee of constant sun and warm weather will also meet the needs of a winter getaway.

“These should mean an increase in UK travelers will be flying out to the UAE this winter, as long as the nation stays on the UK's travel corridor list.”

UAE’s airlines and hotels will hope this turns out to be the case before the year drifts into history. But until then, local hotels will still have the next staycation phase to see through.