Until recently, come summer break or even a long weekend and queues at any of UAE’s airports were sure to be long. Whether it is the geographical advantage that UAE has that ensures most top tourist destinations are just a few hours’ away in terms of flying time, or the need to escape the sweltering heat, UAE has, over the years, seen an increasing number of residents, both Emiratis and expats, jetting off either to the cooler climes of Europe, or to value-for-money destinations in the East or for adventures in Africa.
But that changed at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic threw a spanner in the works. While travel restrictions did affect the global tourism industry, the UAE’s resilient hospitality industry, thanks to a variety of factors including a timely stimulus package and brisk demand for staycations by residents, overcame the strong headwinds to stay on course.
According to a recent report by the Dubai government "a stimulus package of over Dh7.1 billion combined with phased reopening of key sectors helped the tourism sector chart a steady course for recovery".
Suddenly the popularity of staycations rose. According to the report, Dubai alone saw hotel occupancies rise from 35 per cent in July 2020 to 58 per cent in May 2021. Dubai’s hotels, the report says, welcomed about 5.5 million domestic visitors in the same period, a 106 per cent increase year on year.
Afif Salibi, general manager at Raffles Dubai, underscores that. "We noticed a 40 per cent growth in revenue from UAE residents since the beginning of 2021, compared to the revenue generated pre-covid from the domestic market," he says.
What boosted this growth was the confidence offered by the industry itself as it rallied together to not only introduce attractive packages but implement new international protocols for sanitization and hygiene. For instance, the reputed Marriott chain "ensured its staff received and implemented sanitisation training as per DHA guidelines and Marriott Brand procedures", says Karolina Paliszewska, acting general manager of Habtoor Grand Resort, Autograph Collection, a Marriott Luxury & Lifestyle Hotel.
They were not alone. Nisha Primlani-Pugnet, head of MarCom & PR of InterContinental Fujairah Resort points out that "stringent measures such as deep cleaning with hospital-grade disinfectants, face covering requirements, contactless communications, social distancing measures within public spaces and enhanced procedures based on local authorities’ guidance and advice were put in place as well". All this contributed towards increased consumer confidence (read rise in guest numbers).
Now with international travel gradually beginning to open up and the long Eid Al Adha holidays coming up, hotels across the country are gearing up to welcome not just international tourists but their loyal domestic guests as well. To sweeten the deal, hotels across the UAE have curated packages that not only offer a fairytale-like escape for its Covid-weary guests but an experience that goes beyond the luxury of a well-appointed hotel room. While resorts lining the country’s vibrant coastline rely on scenic views, fine dining options and a plethora of activities to pamper and entertain their guests, city hotels exploit their central location, offering packages that include tickets to nearby attractions along with discounted rates to family-friendly amenities within their property. IHG at Dubai Festival City, for instance, "has created tailor-made packages suitable for families, combined with shopping and dining experiences that the Festival City location has to offer," says Thomas Schmelter, area general manager, IHG Dubai Festival City Hotels.
Raffles Dubai has a package that allows parents to dine on half board, children under the age of nine dine for free and includes four complimentary tickets to Laguna Park or Green Planet. "We launched it in April and it has turned out to be quite popular," says Afif.
Properties such as InterContinental Fujairah Resort make the most of their sprawling premises by creating a range of options for their guests. From tennis courts and a well-equipped gym to indulgent spa treatments and yoga sessions, the hotel has enough to fill the guests’ day, says Nisha.
And if you think your little ones will have little to do in a hotel apart from spending most of their time in the kiddie’s pool, you are going to be pleasantly surprised. IHG Dubai Festival City Hotels has introduced a ‘Family Suite Playcation’ package which is designed in partnership with Toys R Us. "As part of this package, we provide children with amenities, toys, games and organise cooking workshops as well. This package sees high demand during the school holidays, Eid and weekends," says Thomas.
This revamp of strategy now, which focuses on the needs of domestic visitors has had a significant impact on the bottom line of the UAE’s hospitality industry.
Although the holidays are not yet here, hotels are already seeing a rise in reservations. And this trend is only likely to continue. With international events such as the T20 World Cup and the Expo 2020 just around the corner, guests – international and domestic – are going to be spoilt for choice when it comes to relaxing in luxury.