Once upon a time, a holiday or a staycation wasn’t complete without a few cocktails by the pool or a few late-night drinks in the bar. A slightly sore head the next morning was all part of the experience.
But in 2023, ‘sober stays’ — or vacations with no alcohol — are emerging as a leading travel trend.
As more people embrace the benefits of wellness-based travel, hospitality venues across the UAE are experiencing increasing demand for alcohol-free wines, beers and cocktails.
Offering a far healthier and more hydrating alternative to alcohol, yet still providing the same sense of luxury and satisfaction, premium non-alcoholic beverages are now widely available in UAE hotels and restaurants. The St. Regis Abu Dhabi, for example, offers everything from Aperol Spritz to Bellinis and Mojitos in full alcohol, low-volume alcohol or zero-percent alcohol versions, and the Rotana chain also offers extensive alcohol-free wine, beer and cocktail menus.
It seems the days of hotels stocking only one or two token non-alcoholic beverages is well and truly over. The Healthy Holiday Company cites the UAE as a key location for a wellness-infused break, and alcohol-free wellness destinations and packages are popping up across the county. For instance, Zoya Health & Wellbeing Resort in Ajman focuses exclusively on transformative retreats that are designed to nourish the mind and body. Guests are even encouraged to start a pre-detox at least three days before arrival.
The UAE’s love for sober stays is big business, and it seems like it’s here to stay.
Luxury alcohol-free beverages
Founded in Dubai in 2021, Drink Dry is the first homegrown online marketplace for premium non-alcoholic beverages in the GCC.
Currently supplying alcohol-free products to over 250 hospitality venues and multiple supermarkets in the UAE, founder Erika Doyle says that the Middle East’s no-alcohol movement has experienced explosive growth over the past few years.
“We initially launched as a team of three, but now we are a team of 15 with B2C and B2B operations in the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We work with supermarkets such as Grandiose, Spinneys, Waitrose, Geant and Choithrams, and all 19 Rotana hotels in the UAE offer special non-alcoholic menus in collaboration with Drink Dry. Interestingly, Rotana’s biggest target market for these products is people from the UAE on staycation,” she says.
“Royal Atlantis is another fantastic example of a hotel that caters to both drinkers and non-drinkers. It offers one of the largest selections of zero-percent drinks in the country, and its best sellers are our Biere des Amis 0.0 beer and CROSSIP Fresh spirit.”
Premium sparkling wine brand Wild Idol launched in the UAE in January 2023. Founded in the UK, the brand’s luxurious sparkling rose and white wines are now available in multiple venues in Dubai, including Nammos Dubai, Caesars Palace Dubai, Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah and Amazonico Dubai.
Wild Idol founder Paul Beavis, says: “There’s been huge global growth in interest for sober holidays and the Middle East is a brilliant destination for these kinds of trips. Along with being rich in culture and activities, it now offers loads of alternative drink options. It’s perfect for travellers who want to do more than just lie on the beach and drink lots of alcohol. Many premium zero alcohol brands have emerged in the last few years. It’s a very exciting space to work in.”
Ideal for active vactions
The growth of the alcohol-free movement reflects the new trend for vacations that revolve around sports, activities and health and fitness.
“Non-alcoholic drinks are ideally suited to active and wellness-focused holidays. Guests can enjoy themselves, have a glass of bubbles and still give their body that much needed break. People are more health conscious these days. They want to feel re-energized after a holiday, not tired. Our products are loved by fitness enthusiasts, parents and wellness conscious consumers who are looking for the perfect balance between healthy and fun,” notes Erika.
“Many of us live busy lives that are very psychically and emotionally demanding. Our holiday and relaxation time has therefore never been more precious, and we all know that true relaxation comes from giving your body a break.”
Paul agrees that sober stays attract a broad spectrum of consumers.
“If you look at the consumption of alcohol-free drinks, the demographic is led by Gen Z and millennials. However, Wild Idol consumers span all generations. Alcohol-free beverages appeal to everyone who wants to live a healthier and longer life,” he adds.
The new way to relax
The rise in demand for sober stays indicates that more people are realizing that drinking isn’t the only way to relax. After all, excessive alcohol depletes essential vitamins and minerals, and this can make it harder for us to replenish our energy levels.
“It’s all about changing your habits. We’ve been trained to think that we need to have a drink to unwind, but breathing exercises and meditation can have the same effect. Drinking too much can lead to anxiety and bouts of depression. You don’t need alcohol to make a holiday feel special. You can still toast that special moment with a glass of sparkling alcohol-free wine,” explains Paul.
Another key health benefit of non-alcoholic beverages is that they tend to include fewer calories and less sugar.
“For a variety of reasons, most of us are becoming more conscious of what we put in our bodies, our minds and who we spend time with. Plus, as more people now work from home and are adopting a healthier work/life balance, they have more time to spend on new adventurous hobbies and forms of exercise. All these things are very difficult to perform with a hangover, whether that’s on holiday or in your downtime,” Paul concludes.