If you believe everything you see on social media, it might look like everyone in the UAE is on holiday abroad. Whether it’s Greece, Mauritius, or the Maldives, everyone seems to be escaping the desert and making sure we know about it. But is this a true reflection of how we feel about travel, post-pandemic? Are we all footloose and fancy free and ready to jump back on a plane and explore?
“I’ve not left the UAE since August 2019,” says French expat Domitille Gobilliard, 39, who lives in Dubai with her seven-year-old daughter. “The pandemic has hugely impacted me, I would normally travel a few times a year – at least once to see family in Europe, and once to a new destination – but we had to cancel any planned trips. It has also stopped parents and family from visiting us.”
Domitille feels that she can’t risk traveling while countries are constantly changing their red and green list destinations. “At the start it was because of the obvious restrictions and the fear of catching Covid-19 while travelling; now, it’s the fear of getting stuck somewhere. As a working parent, I cannot risk being caught in another country, or being off for two weeks in self-isolation because of rule changes.”
It’s a concern affecting many potential travelers, says Vandana Adnani, manager at Dubai-based Pluto Travels.
“People are essentially still wary of travel as they are not sure if they will get stuck and be unable to travel back in case of evolving travel advisories,” she explains. “People want to travel, but they are unable to overcome the fear of getting stranded more than anything else.”
Adnani also thinks parents are more hesitant. “Adults without children are more open to travel as most of them have been vaccinated,” she explains. “Children’s vaccinations have now started, so we should see an uptake in family travel.”
At Emirates, they’re seeing this uptake already.
“Bookings have mainly focused on smaller groups or couples travelling, however that’s shifting to larger families over the course of the summer, especially as schools close for summer holidays,” a spokesperson for the airline told Livehealthy. “In addition, holidays are becoming longer, ranging anywhere from 10 days to three weeks, as more families seek longer getaways or visits home to see family and friends. Travellers across the board are seeking to go on holiday to places where there is little to no quarantine downtime and at the moment, Emirates is flying to close to 35 cities in 20 countries that have opened their doors to tourism, quarantine-free.”
One person who has taken advantage of this is communications manager Victoria Machin, who travelled to Nepal in March 2020 right before air travel was banned, and has since been to Zanzibar, to the UK twice and most recently to Kenya.
“To be honest, I’ve managed to travel about the same amount as I would have done in a normal year.” she admits. “There’s a lot of admin, and it feels more laborious than usual, but I think this is what travel is now and if you want to travel it’s just part of the deal.”
For those who are still on the fence, she has some advice.
“I think it’s safe to travel if you take the right precautions. It’s also important to pick a destination that you have researched, and it obviously makes a difference if you’ve been vaccinated. I think people will feel safer to travel once vaccinated.”
So, where to go?
“The Indian Ocean Islands continue to be extremely popular, with travellers longing for beach vacations and convenient testing onsite at hotels ahead of returning to Dubai,” says the Emirates spokesperson. “We’re now seeing more demand to the Mediterranean, including newly opened-up destinations like Italy, Spain, Malta and Greece, as well as traditionally popular destinations like Turkey. Of course, destinations in the Middle East such as Beirut, Amman and Cairo also continue to be popular with the large expat community reconnecting with their family, relatives and friends.”
And there’s another hot destination, says the Emirates spokesperson: “With rapid vaccination rates, the US has become increasingly popular again for tourists. There’s a variety of outdoor activities with summer kicking off, and places like Los Angeles, Chicago, Orlando, San Francisco and New York are attracting UAE travellers.”
One person keen to get back to the US is expat Ryen Hammond from Minneapolis.
She and her husband David had a baby during the pandemic, and are now looking forward to taking little Ruby to the US.
“I’ve not left the UAE since December 2019 when I visited Copenhagen and the UK, and I haven’t been back to the US since August 2019,” says the account manager, who works at a Dubai-based creative agency. “We’ve now booked a 14-hour flight from Dubai to Seattle to see my family in October.”
One person who has made the most of staycations in the UAE is South African expat JJ Engelbrecht.
“My last trip abroad was to Scotland for New Years Eve in December 2019,” he explains. “I had to cancel trips to Georgia, Zanzibar, South Africa and Bali because the risk of travelling was too high for me. I don’t want to be stuck in a foreign country. As lovely as it could be, it is not practical, especially for work, so I have been having holidays in the UAE.”
And the Dubai-based HR manager has thoroughly enjoyed them.
“I have travelled multiple times to Fujairah, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al-Khaimah with friends for mini staycations and absolutely loved it,” he says. “It was the best option many of us had for a getaway and a safe one at that. I’m now looking into Thailand for a holiday abroad.”
The general consensus seems to be that people are now ready to travel.
“We are fairly optimistic that in the next 12-18 months we will see passenger volumes recover as more countries open,” said the Emirates spokesperson. “This will help the industry recover quicker than expected.”
Devinder Bains is journalist of 20 years, working as a writer and editor on some of the biggest national magazines, newspapers and online publications in the UK and the Middle East. She specialises in women’s empowerment, fashion, race, culture and travel, and as a qualified personal trainer and nutrition coach, she is an expert in health and fitness. She splits her time between freelance writing and running Fit Squad DXB – Dubai’s largest personal training and wellness company.