Heathrow Airport
Decision times for Priority visas now stand at five working days, and Super Priority Visas will be made ready for next-day collection. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Travel demand from the UAE to the UK is expected to soar as schools in the country close for the Spring break and visa processing times revert to their usual 15 working days.

UAE residents and travellers worldwide seeking UK entry visas (for leisure and business travel) were forced to wait for up to six to seven weeks until December last year due to pandemic-triggered delays.

A spokesperson for VFS Global, the official partner for UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), told Gulf News: “The processing time for UK visas has reverted to 15 working days, and the turnaround time for Priority and Super Priority visas have likewise normalised.”

Decision times for Priority visas now stand at five working days, and Super Priority Visas will be made ready for next-day collection.

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Moreover, the UKVI has also confirmed no changes to the visa application fee structure.

According to the immigration body, a standard short-term visit visa (single or multiple entries) costs Dh473.80 and a longer-term visa (multiple two-year entries) Dh1,778. A six-month student visa can be availed for Dh947.60.

Travel demand to UK to pick up pace

Given these new developments, travel agents and airlines operating in the UAE-UK sector are hopeful that travel demand should pick up once schools close for vacation. “Demand for UK visas remains robust. We saw travel gain speed in 2022, and we expect the trend to continue in 2023,” said the VFS spokesperson.

“We have witnessed a good mix in demand for leisure, family visits and business travellers. Visitor visas remain the most in-demand category of visa granted for UAE nationals, with over 2,200 granted to UAE nationals in the last year.” UAE nationals no longer need a visa to travel to the UK. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, one can get an Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) instead of a visa if one is a national of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar or the UAE for 30 pounds.

“An EVW lets you visit the UK for up to six months for tourism, business, study or medical treatment. If you’re visiting for another reason, check if you need a visa instead.”

A Dubai-based travel agency told Gulf News: “Travel demand on the whole continues to show positive growth. Compared to the same timings in 2022, we have seen a 60 per cent increase in travel bookings across the Spring break period, while summer holidays are starting to gain traction.”

UAE flag carriers Etihad and Emirates operate multiple daily flights to various destinations in the UK. Emirates operates 129 weekly flights, including 14 weekly services to Birmingham, 42 to London Heathrow, seven to Glasgow, 21 to Gatwick and Manchester, seven to Newcastle, and seven to Stansted.

Chaos at LHR will not deter travellers

Travel agents have said UAE-UK travellers are not deterred by the ongoing Border Force and ground handler strikes at London Heathrow (LHR) airport. Ahmed Soliman, Managing Director of Travel Connections Arabia (TCA), said since there aren’t any clear indications or scheduled strikes, demand in the UK remains stable.

The demographic of travelers to the UK from the UAE still primarily includes both business and leisure travelers. The UAE is a major business center in the Middle East and many business travelers frequently travel to and from the UK for work-related reasons.

- Ahmed Soliman, Managing Director of Travel Connections Arabia (TCA)

He added: “The UK continues to be a highly sought-after travel destination for people in the UAE throughout the year. Flight traffic from the UAE to the UK has seen a steady increase year on year over the past five years, including during the pandemic. Additionally, based on observations, a surge in bookings is usually observed when 5-star London hotels fill up.”

Soliman commented on the state of forward bookings, “According to our data, we typically receive a high volume of travel-related enquiries before school holidays, such as Spring break.”

Moreover, even with the frequency of flight options, flight prices are stable at an average of Dh3,500 for a direct round trip, explained Soliman. According to travel aggregator SkyScanner, round trip airfares from UAE to the UK (for travel from February 3-17) are priced at an affordable Dh2,680 on a British Airways flight and Dh3,066 on Emirates. Fares to this sector have also remained steady compared to December 2022 peak travel times. UK fares from UAE were priced at approximately Dh3,300, including taxes, for travel from December 23, 2022 to January 3, 2023.