Dubai: UAE residents with travel plans to Europe will be getting relief on two fronts – airfares to major destinations in the EU are dropping. And, just as important, the Schengen visa processing time is getting back to two weeks or lower.
That would compare to visa appointment timelines stretching to one or two months during the October to end December period.
So, if UAE travellers are sort of homing on trips to Europe, now would be a good time to start on the process.
“Demand is expected to spike in April during the Eid holidays," said Shanawaz Khan, founder of Trips Away, specialising in travel packages to Europe.
This trend follows an exceptional winter travel phase, where scores of UAE and GCC residents flocked to European holiday destinations during Christmas and New Year. "However, their wait times for Schengen visa appointments was well over one month," said Khan.
As of now, European embassies in the UAE have opened up booking slots, and visa processing times are averaging two weeks.
Between 2021-23, we witnessed an exponential 145 per cent growth in visa applications.
What of fares to Europe?
Airfares to various cities across Europe have dropped to under Dh3,000. The April demand during Eid holidays will likely take in trips to Spain, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Germany. Last year, travel demand to Europe was at least 40-50 per cent higher compared to 2019 levels.
Projected seats from the UAE for Spain's winter campaign increased 7.9%; searches from the UAE to Spain surged by 27%; and airline bookings by 29.1%
Demand crosses 2019 levels
Demand for visas had definitely surpassed pre-pandemic levels in 2023, said Monaz Billimoria, Regional Head, VFS Global, the official document collection and processing agency for most Schengen nation visas in the UAE.
"Demand for visas overall in the UAE had seen a 12 per cent growth in 2023 vs 2019,” said Monaz. “Between 2021-23, we witnessed an exponential 145 per cent growth in visa applications.”
This sentiment is seconded by Daniel Rosado, Director of the Spanish Tourism Office in Abu Dhabi and Counselor for Tourism Affairs at the Spanish Embassy in UAE.
"Projected seats from the UAE for Spain's winter campaign increased 7.9 per cent; searches from the UAE to Spain surged by 27 per cent; and airline bookings by 29.1 per cent," said Rosado.
"While the average time spent in a single destination has decreased, Spain is witnessing increased expenditure (by travellers), indicating a positive sentiment toward luxury travel."
Drop in fares
Airlines are back to getting hyper competitive on key routes. On Dubai to Paris, Economy fares are priced at Dh1,424 (Wizz Air) to Dh2,965 (Emirates) for travel from January 10 to January 24, compared to highs of Dh4,500 in December.
Abu Dhabi to Madrid fares are available from Dh1,134 to Dh3,135 vs highs of Dh5,000 last month, and Dubai to Zurich flights are averaging Dh2,665-Dh2,945 (vs Dh4805). Seats on flights to Athens are available for Dh556, and Amsterdam fares are at Dh2,940.
That being said, Monaz said it is still advisable for UAE residents to book their visa processing appointments well in advance to avoid delays.
Khan explained: "Wait times tend to get longer during busy travel seasons (long weekends, summer and winter breaks), especially if travellers seek bulk bookings."
Travel is back on all fronts with every region thriving, and despite disruptions in certain markets, we are optimistic for another strong year in 2024.
On average, according to World Trips, travellers spent $7,687 (Dh28,232) during their Europe travels last year compared to the $6,869 (Dh25,228.46) in 2022.
Kristi Gole, Executive Vice-President of Strategy at GHA, said, "Europe has emerged as the most sought-after region to visit in 2024. Travel is back on all fronts with every region thriving, and despite disruptions in certain markets, we are optimistic for another strong year in 2024.
"Travellers are still willing to pay premium prices to get where they want and to stay in the best hotels, but they now expect the product and service levels to match and want loyalty programs to add value and enhance each stay as well."