Dubai: UAE residents planning a Ramadan or Eid break in France are not letting the garbage piles on Paris streets and the now regular round of protests in the main cities impact their decision on when to travel.
Sources at leading UAE travel agencies and airlines confirm there have been limited-to-no cancellations as a result of the protests sweeping across France, which has to do with a decision by the government to raise the minimum age for a pension to 64 years from 62.
But UAE travellers will do well to avoid locations that have seen massive demonstrations break out. “Things are fine for tourists as long as they don't go where demonstrations are happening,” said Karim Mekachera, Managing Director, Middle East and Turkey of Atout France (the French Tourism Development Agency).
Train services within France have been affected, as were flights from Paris. Yet, visitors from the UAE are sticking to their itineraries.
“There have been no cancellations or re-bookings - we have a tour group of 150 UAE residents in France at the moment,” said a top official with a leading Dubai-based travel agency. “Some marches are happening in the streets of Paris, but tour managers accompany them on the ground. We have tours in April, June, and the summer months.”
However, operations resumed on Tuesday (March 28) though Etihad Airways, which experienced a 24-minute delay on its Abu Dhabi–Frankfurt flight.
Airports, bus, and train stations across Germany were at a standstill on Monday, disrupting millions of people during one of the largest walkouts in decades in Europe's biggest economy as soaring inflation brought on demands for higher wages.
The strikes have affected flights at eight major airports, including those in Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg. The German Airports Association estimated that around 380,000 travellers could not take off on Monday.
A European travel crisis
Airports in Europe and the UK have been wrestling with myriad issues as the post-pandemic travel boom took effect. The likes of Heathrow imposed daily limits on passengers flying out during the summer, and now, Germany too is in the grip of travel disruptions.
European destinations had returned to being popular choices for UAE and Gulf travellers in the fourth quarter of 2022. Travel industry sources say these would have been even higher were it not for Gulf residents deciding to stay put rather than travel during the FIFA World Cup phase from mid-November to mid-December.
Flights and fares
France’s civil aviation authority had asked airlines to cancel 20 per cent of flights at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport on March 8 and 9, respectively. However, this did not impact the operations of UAE carriers, as no cancellations were reported since the protests broke out earlier this month.
Direct airfares to top European destinations, especially France, have remained stubbornly high since December 2022. “Air travel is relatively expensive from the UAE to France (and other European destinations) right now,” said Martin Jones, Chief Supply Officer at TBO.com, a global travel distribution platform.
Direct Economy fares from Dubai to Paris on Air France cost Dh3,805 for departure on April 24 and return on April 30, which would coincide with the Eid breaks. Emirates’ fares to Nice are at Dh 3,675, and those to Lyon around Dh4,685.
The fares have remained consistent since December last, when tickets to Paris cost Dh3,600-Dh3,800 during Christmas. Pre-pandemic airfares averaged Dh3,200-Dh3,900, depending on the season.
France, particularly Paris, is performing well as a destination and room rates are stable – there’s certainly been no crash in pricing or occupancies.
Visa remains the problem
However, obtaining a tourist Schengen visa remains the most challenging aspect of travelling to Europe, as there are few appointment slots. According to a travel agent, applicants must check the website periodically to see if anyone has cancelled appointments.
Ahmed Soliman, Managing Director of Travel Connections Arabia (TCA), said, “The waiting period for a visa appointment remains a huge challenge. It takes weeks - and months - before travellers get an appointment for a new visa application. It is interesting to see how this matter will be resolved.”
Demand for visa applications has soared ahead of the Eid-Al-Fitr and summer holidays. “The pent-up demand for travel has led to high volumes of visa applications since last year, with peak seasons extending well beyond the traditional months,” said a VFS Global spokesperson. (VFS Global is the official visa processing partner for Schengen permits.)
“Ahead of summer, we have already witnessed an uptick in demand for visas, and with Europe being a popular destination from the Middle East, we expect volumes to remain high through the travel season.”