Dubai: Airline travel agencies in the UAE are seeing a spike in booking cancellations as more countries impose restrictions on passenger flights.
About 60-80 per cent of customers have cancelled or changed the dates after airlines announcing waivers for date change fees, said Afi Ahmed, Managing Director at Smart Travel.
An executive at Advanced Travel and Tourism in Abu Dhabi said it had about 80 per cent cancellations even before a travel advisory was issued by the UAE. These cancellations were mostly to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Indian nationals, the largest group of expats in the UAE, are refraining from bringing their families on visit visas during the upcoming school break back home. “About 90 per cent of the business and leisure trips are also getting cancelled,” said Ahmed.
The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention has been telling residents to avoid all non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 situation and its spread in several countries. The Ministry of Education also warned that students who travel abroad will have to undergo screening and be home quarantined for 14 days to make sure they are free of the virus on their return.
Concerns about return
“Passengers are worried about future travel restrictions from their destination countries and their return trips,” said a travel agent. “We have been flooded with cancellation requests.”
She said the company used to book many regional leisure trips during the spring break for schools. “But due to the virus, a lot of passengers are seeking refunds for their tickets. This has affected trips to Europe also.”
Mujeeb Rahman, in-charge of the Al Quoz branch of Deira Travels, said the agency has been receiving several calls related to cancellations.
“People are worried if they will not be able to fly back in time. What if their companies ask them to stay back in their home countries if the coronavirus situation becomes worse - that is their main concern.”
Cancellations and refunds mean loss of business for the travel industry. Travel companies are also feeling the heat of bulk cancellations after Saudi Arabia halted Umrah pilgrimage.
Ahmed said: “It looks like we are bracing for the worst days. We are asking staff members to go on leave if they wish to.”
No peace of mind
Dubai resident Afsal Shyam said he and four other friends, who were due to fly with their families to Switzerland and Paris on March 22, have cancelled the trip.
“Everything was ready - all of us had got a visa and we had our flight tickets and hotel bookings done,” he said.
The families then decided not to fly even before the travel advisory was issued by the UAE health ministry. “We are a group of 25 and we have kids aged two to 15. There is no point in going for a trip when you are constantly scared about the spread of the virus.”
A. Ragesh, an Indian expat, said he cancelled the family’s Turkey trip scheduled on March 19 after the advisory came in.
“It was our dream trip to Cappadocia - we wanted to go for hot air ballooning to celebrate our twin daughters’ 13th birthday. In the current scenario, we cannot travel with peace of mind.”