With up to five days’ holiday for private sector employees in the UAE and most coronavirus restrictions lifted, new and traditional travel destinations are reporting an uptick in bookings this Eid Al Fitr.
From the UK to the Maldives, forward bookings indicate a return to the pre-pandemic norm, the travel trade says.
“The overall travel sentiment is positive and hopeful,” said Raheesh Babu, COO of the online booking agency Musafir.com. “The last two years have seen people forced to stay home and reconsider international travel because of testing and quarantine hassles. But thanks to the successful vaccination drives in most countries, there is a clear ease in restrictions and people are quite positive about travelling with [a little] inconvenience.”
We are almost back to our pre-pandemic level and for Eid Al Fitr 2022.
The agency has seen a 50 per cent jump in bookings at Eid Al Fitr as compared to 2021. “This Eid, we’re quite optimistic about the business growth. We are almost back to our pre-pandemic level and for Eid Al Fitr 2022, we are expecting to reach 80 per cent of our pre-Covid targets,” Babu told GN Focus.
UAE travellers planning last-minute trips will find that some of the most popular destinations are now open for tourists and free of Covid-19 test requirements. Emirates airline recently listed 23 countries on its website that are open to tourists and where a PCR test is not required. These include favourites for UAE travellers such as the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Thailand, the Maldives and Saudi Arabia.
Besides traditional demand from South Asian expats travelling home to see their families, Musafir also clocks increased demand for emerging destinations such as Armenia, Azerbaijan Georgia and Serbia, as well as eastwards towards Bangkok and Pattaya.
Florian Sengstschmid, CEO of the Azerbaijan Tourism Board, believes Azerbaijan will be among the top preferred destinations for UAE citizens and residents this Eid. “There has been considerable increase from this market since international borders started reopening. Overall, the GCC is one of the regions we see the most increases from, with more than 32,000 in 2021 and 22,000 arrivals in the first quarter of 2022 alone, and we are confident that this trend will continue throughout the year,” he told GN Focus.
Azerbaijan has become more attractive to GCC travellers since it began issuing visas on arrival to the region’s nationals and residents. (However, conditions may apply, so double check before booking).
Sengstschmid sees 2022 as a transitional year on the path back to pre-pandemic tourist levels. “For Azerbaijan, the UAE and GCC countries in general will play an important role in achieving this. Therefore, we continue to build fruitful relations with our trade partners in this market as well as developing even more exhilarating tourism offerings for curious travellers from this region,” he said.
In 2021 we received 130,000 visitors compared to our target of 90,000 visitors. Our targets for 2022 are 180,000 visitors.
The Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) is also rolling out the red carpet this Eid following the success of a travel corridor with the UAE last summer. As of May 2 this year, visitors to Greece no longer need to present vaccine passports, and the country is lifting internal Covid-related restrictions.
“Greece managed to cover significant ground in 2021. The boost in international travellers placed the country among the most popular tourism destinations in Europe, proving that the Greek tourism product remains resilient and attractive. For 2022, Greece aims even higher building on the remarkable numbers of last year. The UAE is one of the focus markets that shows potential and interest in many Greek destinations such as Athens, Thessaloniki, Mykonos, Santorini and Crete,” said Eleni Mitraki, the GNTO’s Director for Tourism Promotion.
There are now non-stop flights from the UAE to Santorini and Athens, and as of June – in time for Eid Al Adha – Etihad is launching new connections to Crete. Until the end of this year, Emiratis do not need a visa for Greece, which is part of the Schengen area.
We are seeing big numbers from the UAE, as well as the other GCC markets for the entire week.
Meanwhile, bookings from UAE travellers are also on the rise at hotels in traditionally popular destinations.
In the Maldives, Raj Sundar, Director of Sales, at the JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa reports strong demand from across the GCC. “We are seeing big numbers from the UAE, as well as the other GCC markets for the entire week,” he said. “As we were not operational in 2020, last year was our first Eid and comparatively, we have seen a major increase in the numbers from the Middle East on a yearly basis. In particular, there has been an increase in demand from expats based in the UAE.”
For once, travellers aren’t waiting until the last minute to book, he added. The hotel has special Eid Al Fitr deals on offer for GCC travellers. Its Savour the Endless package at the JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa is available until May 30 and includes three meals a day across five restaurants and three full-service bars, along with a one-time beach dinner for two.
This Eid, we are very much expecting to welcome families from the UAE that seek one of the best locations in Mayfair.
In London, the St. James’s Hotel & Club in Mayfair is expecting bustling business from the region, according to its Managing Director, Anjana Pandya.
“This Eid, we are very much expecting to welcome families from the UAE that seek one of the best locations in Mayfair as we are located right on the edge of Green Park, and steps away from the best shopping and restaurants. We are delighted to see business from the UAE start to rebound to the levels from back in 2019, pre-pandemic,” she said.
Not quite a staycation
However, for those who can’t stomach the idea of a long flight but still want to leave the country, there’s an option right next door.
Now that international borders are open, Philip Jones, Chief Destination Marketing Officer, Royal Commission for AlUla in Saudi Arabia believes UAE travellers will help raise visitor numbers to the cultural hidden gem this Eid and throughout 2022.
“[We expect to see] travellers from Dubai who are looking for a short time flight travel and experience of a unique heritage and adventure destination not far from their homeland,” he said. “In 2021 we received 130,000 visitors compared to our target of 90,000 visitors. Our targets for 2022 are 180,000 visitors.”
While there are free events and experiences across the city this Eid, local hotels are also advertising festival deals. Habitas AlUla’s Eid Escape package, valid until May 6, includes accommodation, two meals a day and a menu of wellness and adventure programming.
It’s Eid Al Fitr unlike anywhere else, Jones said: “The unique identity of the place, the multitude of epic adventures and luxury experiences we offer, and the majestic scenery of the desert and its landscapes make AlUla an excellent boutique destination for luxury-seeking travellers.”