Dubai: More than 200,000 visitors are expected to fly into Dubai to see off this year, as the city reaps benefits from a planned opening up of its travel and tourism sector. But it won’t just be about incoming visitors alone.
More UAE residents are getting over their fear of returning to the skies after nearly a year of living with the strain of COVID-19. Outbound flights are starting to get busy, and quite a bit of the upcoming traffic will be those wanting to take an end-of-year break.
“I don’t mind flying during the pandemic,” said Theresa Karpenter, a resident. “I haven’t been on an aircraft in a year, I will take the chance. I opted for a beach destination - Zanzibar.”
For others, it’s not about seeking a sandy beach somewhere far out. It’s a chance to reconnect with their family and just heading back to places they are so familiar with. “I have booked a flight to travel home to London,” said Kathrine Spencer, another long-time resident. “Although they had announced a lockdown there, I would rather be with my family for Christmas.”
Taking the offers
Airline companies and hotel operators are doing their bit, offering up special rates in the hope that this will convince more people to get back to travelling and booking stays at destinations. Airline tickets to London are available at just over Dh2,300, while those to Maldives are available from around Dh3,000. (Heading into Zanzibar would cost Dh1,350 and thereabouts.)
Hotel operators are seeing some of that need to travel and be somewhere else show up in their bookings.
“Our resorts in the Maldives and Thailand have seen stellar numbers from October through to December,” said Sonu Shivdasani, CEO of Soneva, which owns the resorts Soneva Fushi and Jani in the Maldives and Soneva Kiri in Thailand. “We already have a lot of inquiries for 2021.
“In fact, in this quarter, our bookings are better compared with previous years. We are noticing strong demand from the US, Russia, India and the GCC. And what is very noticeable is that guest bookings are becoming more and more direct, not through agencies.”
One enduring hotspot
This end-of-year, Maldives is one destination that’s holding its own as a favoured travel spot for UAE residents. “My wife and I chose the Maldives as our honeymoon destination,” said Ali Al Rasheed, a Dubai resident. “In addition to having fewer travel restrictions than other places, Maldives is also one of those “resort countries” where you can get a private villa with a private pool and direct access to the beach without really having to come into contact with other guests.”
Pitch the privacy
The aspect of privacy also makes Zanzibar a popular destination. “We have seen an increase in tourists,” said Bruce Bowan, General Manager at The Residence Zanzibar. “The booking pace seemed quite slow a month before; however with the news of vaccines coming out and countries allowing their nationals to travel with PCR and precautions, we have seen high demand over the last couple of weeks.
“We are currently ahead of last year’s occupancy, and had to put a stop-sale to maintain health and safety standards during the festive season.”
“I was just on a trip to Zanzibar,” Angie Mahmoud, a Dubai resident said. “It was a split-second decision and it was a great opportunity to get away from real life and enjoy this festive season… at a slower pace.”
But there’s no denying that the pandemic has severely changed the fundamentals of travel and hospitality. The personal interaction with guests has had to evolve in the face of social distancing and security protocols.
But travellers are keener than ever to head out again… This could well be the making of a general turnaround for the travel and tourism industry. Or will all this activity be confined to the weeks either side of the New Year?