New UAE Green Visa to come into effect from October 3
European destinations have a made a strong comeback in UAE travellers December holiday plans. Paris and Swiss cities dominate on their itinerary, but they are also willing to go to less explored spaces too on the Continent. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: UAE residents are finding it’s gone back to being a far smoother process to clear visa formalities and head for trips to Europe in the coming weeks. UAE airlines too are helping with high-profile promotions offering short trip packages to Europe’s many happening destinations, both extremely popular and those that measure high on the away-from-it-all quaintness.

All of which is a major change from the situation during summer, when UAE travellers with plans for Europe were faced with visa interview confirmations taking weeks. Now, the processing time for a Schengen visa to Europe has dropped considerably, propelling Europe back on the list of most popular destination from the UAE.

A spokesperson for VFS Global, the official visa facilitation centre for Schengen visas in the UAE, "This has been an extended peak season for us, with the recorded volumes touching 85-90 per cent of our 2019 numbers (on visa issuing).”

However, an average 15-day waiting period for a visa is still in place, compared to six weeks during summer. So, a last-minute holiday plan to the French Riviera is still out of the question.

Flying non-stop on Economy to the EU? Here's how much it costs:

  • Dubai to Paris: around Dh3,000 and over
  • Dubai to Prague: Dh2,087
  • Dubai to Berlin: Dh2,106
  • Abu Dhabi to Milan: Dh2,125
  • Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam: Dh2,805
  • Dubai to Brussels: Dh2,433
  • CREDIT: (All prices are subject to change)

Airlines provide a break

On the airfare side, tickets to popular European winter destinations are still less expensive than expected. For example, an Economy ticket is still listing at Dh2,700 for Dubai-to-Paris from December 2 to 13.

According to a report from Oxford Economics, tourist arrivals to Europe were 43 per cent below pre-pandemic levels between January and March this year. However, prospects for the overall year suggest that the region would have recovered 70 per cent of pre-pandemic travel demand.

France, the world's most popular destination and the backbone of the European travel and tourism sector, is witnessing a robust recovery. Karim Mekachera, Managing Director, Middle East and Turkey of Atout France (the French Tourism Development Agency), said: "Post-pandemic, tourism towards France from this region has shown fantastic resilience.

"For the winter season, we have had bookings several months in advance despite global concerns about inflation and other economic indicators. Compared to 2019, demand has shot up by at least 20-30 per cent."

The post-pandemic trend has been that people want to visit destinations with abundant natural beauty and opportunities for winter sport

- Karim Mekachera at Atout France

Tourism sector in recovery

The World Travel Organisation revealed that France's travel and tourism sector would propel the national economic recovery. It could surpass pre-pandemic levels next year, projected to rise 2.2 per cent above 2019 levels.

Mekachera said apart from popular winter destinations such as Paris and the French Riviera, France is also witnessing an increase in tourists to the Southwest region. "The post-pandemic trend has been that people want to visit destinations with abundant natural beauty and opportunities for winter sports."

Meanwhile, UAE visitors in Switzerland rose by 21 per cent earlier this year as the country was among the first in Europe to liberalise entry requirements post-pandemic. According to numbers released by the Federal Statistical Office, 14.6 million overnight stays were recorded in Swiss hotels and other accommodations for November 2021-April 2022.

Top destinations in Europe

Which are the most popular travel destinations among UAE travellers? Meerah Ketait, Head of Retail and Leisure UAE at dnata Travel, says that "In order of popularity, the four most booked destinations for this winter to Europe are Turkey, Switzerland, Italy, and France."

dnata Travel's list of top trending searches, enquiries and bookings from UAE includes Prague, Vienna and Berlin.