Dubai: Rommel Sumero and his family were supposed to spend a short time in Hong Kong before going to the Philippines this summer, but the plan has been shelved due to the coronavirus scare.
Not only were their travel plans affected, but they also had to pay extra for a direct flight to Manila.
“The promo fare for a two-way ticket Dubai-Hong Kong-Manila was only Dh1,700 but a direct Dubai-Manila flight cost us around Dh2,400. That was Dh2,800 more for a family of four,” the 35-year-old Dubai resident told Gulf News.
Travel agents and tour operators in Dubai said they were also facing a decline in the number of customers who are making advanced travel plans for Ramadan and summer.
“This time last year, we would have been receiving around 100 enquiries a week for promo fares and tour packages. Now, we hardly get 10 queries a week,” said Malou Prado, managing director and owner of MPQ Tourism.
“Two to three months before the onset of summer or Ramadan would have been the best time to purchase travel,” she added. “But we are now really affected and this could be a tough year for international tourism – especially for China, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. People are being cautious – they are worried about traveling to Asia.”
By this time last year, we have been receiving around 100 enquiries every week for promo fares and tour packages. Now, we hardly get 10 queries per week.
According to the World Tourism Organisation, more than 343 million tourists have traveled to Asia in 2018, an increase of six per cent compared to 2017.
“But inbound travel or those coming to the UAE is not affected. We still have the same number of tourists coming in,” said Prado.
“Most UAE residents have changed their destinations however,” she added. “Instead of going to their favourite Southeast Asian hubs, they have booked for tours to nearby places like Armenia and Georgia.”
The main reason for this is thought to be fear of the coronavirus that has so far infected over 75,000 people and killed more than 2,000, with five deaths outside China. COVID-19, as its now dubbed, has also affected 29 countries and territories, including cruise ships.
“It’s not about being alarmist but it’s better to be extra cautious these days,” said Lebanese expat Mou’men Mohsen, 25. Jomat Abraham, 31, from India agreed.
The duo, who are officemates, will travel to Germany next week for work.
It’s not about being alarmist but it’s better to be extra cautious these days.
“If not work-related, we would have preferred to stay in Dubai at the moment to avoid all the additional screenings being conducted at large airports,” said Abraham.
Before this they were more than happy to travel, spending December on holiday in India.
If not work-related, we would have preferred to stay in Dubai at the moment to avoid all the additional screenings being conducted at large airports.
Returning UAE residents stranded
Some residents who went home for their annual leave have also experienced delays while coming back to the UAE.
Ivy Charyl Gareza, travel consultant at Happy Holidays in Satwa, said some of her clients were supposed to return to Dubai last week but were held up in Manila.
Some of my clients were able to collect a Dh400 refund but they had to pay around D1,200 for a one-way direct flight to Dubai. It cost them more but they argued even a brief layover in China is not worth the risk.
“Those who booked for a return trip with a layover in Hong Kong or some in cities in China were not allowed to leave the Philippines unless they booked a direct flight to Dubai. The Philippine immigration has imposed a travel ban to China,” she added.
“Some of my clients were able to collect a Dh400 refund but they had to pay around D1,200 for a one-way direct flight to Dubai. It cost them more but they argued even a brief layover in China is not worth the risk,” she said.
Too early to feel the impact
Peter Brun, chief communications officer at VFS Global, said, “It’s far too early to say what kind of impact this [COVID-19] will have [on international travel]. As you see the numbers outside of China are not big and we have yet to see how much it will impact the industry – if there is really an impact.
It’s too early to tell the overall impact of coronavirus to international tourism. The numbers outside of China are not big and we have yet to see how much it will impact the industry – if there is really an impact
“As peak travel and summer season are coming, people would still want to travel. In our [VFS Global] case, most of our clients are going West – to Europe – it’s a different direction, where the virus is not really a topic.
“We are actually preparing for a pre-peak season for visa applications and we advise those who will be applying for a Schengen visa that they can apply six months ahead for their travel date as per the new Schengen code which took effect last February 2,” he added.