The Swiss Alps beckons - and many of UAE's residents are lining up to make the trip. European destinations are proving the preferred choice for end-of-year travel. Image Credit: Pixabay

Dubai: European destinations are UAE residents’ preferred choices to see in the New Year, with Switzerland and Greece among the top choices.

In fact, these two popular destinations as well as Italy figure high on the list as visa appointment times are relatively shorter. Travel to the UK, a major source market for UAE airlines, is also seeing a large number of bookings, travel agency sources confirm.

Ticket rates are also heading higher for two of the other popular hotspots favoured by UAE travellers at this time of the year.

“Georgia and Armenia are seeing high fares,” said a spokesperson for Regal Tours. “In comparison, flight ticket prices for Schengen countries have largely remained stable.”

A flight from Dubai to Georgia’s Tbilisi will cost Dh1,000-Dh1,400 and to Armenia (Yerevan) would be around Dh900. This is quite high compared to the Dh600-Dh700 fares usually seen during the off-season. At the same time, a Wizz Air flight from Abu Dhabi to Athens has fares starting from just Dh309.

Stock - Wizz Air
Wizz Air with its recently launched Abu Dhabi airline is trying to corner the UAE-to-Europe market with some eye-popping deals. Image Credit: Supplied

Demand patterns

If they can help it, UAE travellers will not be dissuaded by the latest Omicron version of the virus outbreak. “As soon as people have the opportunity to travel, they will do it immediately if there is flight capacity and secure travel (possibility),” said Ralf Ostendorf, director market management for VisitBerlin. “With the restrictions, everything is totally unpredictable and incomparable to pre-Covid times.”

Germany, which added UAE to its ‘safe’ list earlier in October, is keen to attract tourists from the Gulf and is in talks to expand flight services. “With a new government taking charge in Germany, we can start discussions to have more traffic rights between UAE and Germany, so that Emirates airline can fly directly between Dubai and Berlin,” said Ostendorf. “We have a carrier that is flying on a charter basis between Dubai and Berlin and those flights are booked out.”

Simplifying entry

German visas typically take around 6–12 weeks to be processed from the time of an interview with the German consulate. This means passengers should start the process of their visa application around 4–5 months before their trip to the country.

COVID-19 has further complicated the process by adding an extra layer of requirements. “It doesn't make much sense to travel to a country when the entry process is too complicated,” said Ostendorf. “When you offer flights to destinations that have an easy entry process, people will simply go and that is something we have to work on.”

UAE-Switzerland travel rules
Passengers travelling from the UAE can enter Switzerland under one the following conditions:

* Present a negative COVID-19 PCR test certificate for a test taken no later than 72 hours before departure. Passengers who present a pre departure test certificate must undergo another test within 4-7 days after arrival. This applies to vaccinated and non-vaccinated passengers.

* All passengers must complete an electronic passenger locator form.

* Children below 16 years old are exempted from the COVID-19 PCR test or vaccination.

Better access

The European Commission recently said residents of Cabo Verde, Lebanon and UAE who have been vaccinated with both required doses and who hold a vaccination certificate issued by the relevant authorities in their country can soon enter EU member states restriction-free.

The governing body has recognised the vaccination certificates issued by UAE as equivalent to the region’s digital Covid certificate. However, it is up to the member states when they want to start accepting the certificates of these three countries.

“The EU digital Covid certificate is unique and that's why 55 countries and territories in five continents have joined the system so far with more than 750 million certificates issued,” said Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice, in a statement. “Even if we have a difficult time with COVID-19 variants, we need the certificate; it has served in the past and will continue to serve in the future to help people to travel safely.”

Travel Pass

Flying to Europe should get a lot easier with Emirates’ recent move to link UAE’s Alhosn app with the IATA Travel Pass digital health platform. Emirates airline said that passengers travelling to EU countries will be able to upload their negative PCR test results and vaccination certificates performed anywhere in the country without the need to visit specific labs.

Passengers simply have to download the IATA Travel Pass, scan Alhosn App’s Travel Pass QR code and load the results back to the app. UAE citizens and residents will also be able to upload their negative PCR test results and vaccination certificates performed anywhere in the country without the need to visit specific labs.