UK travel companies expect a surge in holiday bookings for the UAE this winter, and a corresponding rise in prices, after the air-corridor was opened between the two countries on Thursday, but Britons cannot fly until the lockdown in England is over.
While airlines and holiday companies are offering deals to entice Britons looking for winter sun over the festive season, analysts say there is pent-up demand for the Middle East country.
"We had an immediate bounce on Thursday for UAE bookings for December but also for the Seychelles and the Maldives because passengers transiting through the UAE on their way back from one of those Indian Ocean islands now won't have to quarantine," said Matt Stuart, chief commercial officer at Stuba, a business-to-business hotel supplier for the travel industry.
"It's a real shot in the arm for the UK travel industry. Prices will rise by about 20 per cent but I don't seeing them going much beyond that because travel companies need to get cash in the door to get them through the winter. The industry has had very little trade for seven, eight months and there are few winter destinations that are really reliable, so if the UAE stays on the air corridor list it gives the sector a real chance to get some income in."
Emma Coulthurst from UK holiday price comparison site TravelSupermarket expects to see a lot of people comparing and searching prices for Dubai in the coming weeks.
“It is an incredibly popular choice amongst Brits for a holiday from the UK. Despite restrictions on visiting this year, it hasn’t stopped people searching and dreaming about holidays there. It has recently been the 19th most booked of any package holiday destination from the UK. We expect this to rise on the back of last night’s announcement," she said.
The UAE was added to Britain's air travel corridor list on Thursday, with travellers flying to the UK out of the UAE after 4am on November 14 no longer needing to self-isolate for 14 days.
For travellers heading from the UK to the UAE, however, they are restricted from flying until after December 2 as England is still in lockdown, unless their journey is for work or education purposes, according to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development office.
“The first dimension to this air corridor rests solely on whether England comes out of lockdown on December 2. Speculation is rife that it may be extended. We simply have no veracity to check claims either way,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at Strategic Aero Research.
While Mr Ahmad expects “heightened demand” for flights to the UAE if the lockdown is lifted, he said “a surge” in demand is unlikely because "the fear of a New Year lockdown is very real".
“Will people risk going abroad or will they focus on being with loved ones at home after a tumultuous 2020 that has restricted social interaction. My gut feeling is that the latter will win out,” he said.
For London resident Gabriella Moore, however, the new air corridor means she can finally fly to Dubai in mid-December to visit her family who live there after not seeing them for a year.
Ms Moore, 31, who works in corporate events management, plans to reactivate an Emirates ticket she was forced to postpone at the start of the pandemic, so that she can enjoy a Christmas reunion with her parents, her brother and his wife.
“I haven’t seen them since last Christmas and would normally have seen them twice since then," said Ms Moore, who grew up in the Emirates and moved back to the UK last year.
"I was hoping to go over Easter and then I probably would have gone out in the middle of the summer. I’m very excited, especially now that they've opened that travel corridor, which means I won't have to quarantine when I come back here."
Ms Coulhurst says package holiday prices from the UK to Dubai in January start from as low as £380 ($500) per person for seven nights, which includes a four-star hotel.
“There is pent up demand to travel. The reaction to the Canary Islands going back on the OK to travel to list showed that, with tens of thousands of people booking breaks there in the week following that announcement,” she said.
“The news of a potential vaccine on Monday has also buoyed consumer confidence and has translated into holiday bookings. As has the news that a testing regime for travel, which will see shorter quarantine times, should be rolled out soon.”
Meanwhile, British Airways said on Friday it has launched an offer for UK customers looking to fly to the UAE in response to the air-corridor.
Customers flying to Dubai can save £100 on Dubai holidays for bookings up to November 2021. Those that book before November 18 will also receive an extra £100 off holidays with a minimum spend of £2,500 with an extra £50 discount for bookings over £1,500.
“We’re pleased to see more sunshine on the horizon with the UAE among other countries opening up” on the UK’s travel corridor news, the airline said in a tweet.
British Airways flights to Dubai start from £356 this month for a seven-night return journey. In December, when the England lockdown lifts, the rate goes up to £364 before dropping to £354 in January.
Dubai holidays start at £379 for a flight and three nights staying at Hilton Inn Dubai Mall of the Emirates.
Rohan Jayawardene, chief executive at private jets charter company Diamonte Jets, said it has received a sudden surge of bookings to Dubai from the UK since the announcement.
“We have more flights going in the first week of December than we did for all of November, with 20 flights booked already," he said.
"Most of the requests we're getting are to depart straight out of the lockdown here on December 2 or the following day. We fly from all UK airports but requests have come from London, Leeds and Manchester,” he said.
The company flies its 14-passenger Falcon 900 and a 19-passengerAirbus Corporate Jet into Dubai World Central airport in Dubai’s Jebel Ali.
"Where before we could only operate business travel trips, now that the leisure corridor's opened up it's extremely busy again. Most of our clients are looking at ... staying in Dubai from early December through to Christmas and New Year. It seems they're making up for lost holiday time and sun by opting to stay for much longer than usual,” Mr Jayawardene said.
Mr Ahmad said the limited commercial flights heading to the UAE will cause price escalation, but said airlines will not reactivate idle aeroplanes to meet rising demand.
“Reactivating stood down jets comes with a high cost and high risk. Not only is there the safety and maintenance compliance issues that have to be resolved before an aeroplane can return to service, you also need flight crews and cabin staff to assist operating every single jet that is put back into service," he said.
John Bevan, chief executive of Dubai-based dnata Travel Group, which also has offices in the UK, said all of its brands have seen a surge in interest for the UAE with average booking values about 20 per cent higher than normal.
“It’s provided us with a real boost after months of challenges," he said. "The message to anyone toying with a break to Dubai once the current ban on travel is lifted is, book now – there are some phenomenal deals available and the destination’s hotels, excursions, theme parks and malls have all worked hard in readiness to welcome tourists back.
"Overnight, for example, Travel Republic reported a 269-per-cent increase in searches for Dubai holidays, leading to 150 per cent growth in bookings for travel in December. Across all our brands Dubai jumped to became our second most searched-for destination after Spain."