Dubai: As much of the world tightens lockdowns to stem coronavirus, Dubai has flung its doors open, branding itself as a sunny, quarantine-free escape.
While mask-wearing and social distancing are strictly enforced, life in the tourism-reliant emirate looks much like normal, with its restaurants, hotels and mega-malls open for business.
Emirates, which restored its network to about three quarters of pre-pandemic levels, is again operating A380 super-jumbos - the world's largest commercial airliner - ferrying in visitors from Britain and Russia.
Russian tourist, Dmitriy Melnikov, said he came to Dubai because his choices were otherwise limited, with many destinations in partial or full lockdown.
"I am not scared," the 30-year-old told AFP. "If you look at people here, everyone has a mask, and I think it's cool."
With a negative PCR test in their home countries - and possibly another upon arrival, depending on the place of departure - tourists can freely enter Dubai, where winter temperatures average a pleasant 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit).
In the Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood in Dubai, mask-clad tourists walk through alleyways, taking pictures of the recreation of life a century ago.
Hand sanitisers and floor stickers warning people to maintain their distance are everywhere, while most restaurants have replaced their menus with digital QR barcodes, that can be displayed on a smartphone.
"Before the coronavirus, tour groups were up to 100 or 250 visitors with each tour guide, but now things are different, only 20 visitors maximum for each tour guide," said the district's director Nasser Juma bin Sulaiman.
Andi Pitman, from the US state of Alabama, said it was her first trip abroad since the start of the pandemic.
"We are very excited to be here and a little nervous, but happy to be out again," she told AFP, strolling through Al-Fahidi with her husband and two children.
"None of us have had the vaccine yet, but we have small kids that need to be out and need to see the world, so we're willing to take the risk."
"Everything is run better here," 25-year-old Sophia Amouch from France, told AFP, adding that she felt "safer in Dubai, where everyone abides by all the measures."
Tourism has long been an economic mainstay of Dubai, which welcomed more than 16 million visitors in 2019.
"Dubai seems to be positioning itself as the destination of choice for those wanting to escape lockdown conditions and have a winter break, especially given ski resorts in Europe are largely closed," said Livermore.
"This is a growth strategy in its own right, but the more successful Dubai can be in achieving this aim, the more benefits will spill over for when Expo opens."
Ahead of the Expo, authorities are mounting a huge vaccination campaign, which has already seen 14 per cent of the population inoculated.
"Travel and tourism is very important to Dubai," Livermore said. "The sector is crucial for generating a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”