Abu Dhabi plans to remove Covid-19 quarantine restrictions for international travellers from July 1, except for visitors from India, and expand its green travel list to boost tourism in the emirate.
"How we are going to move forward in 2021 … Abu Dhabi will be open for everyone with no quarantine protocol starting from July 1," Ali Al Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing at the emirate's Department of Culture and Tourism, told The National on the sidelines of Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
“We are going to welcome everybody to Abu Dhabi with a different [travelling] protocol but no quarantine.”
There are 22 countries on the emirate’s green list, which allows quarantine-free travel for passengers from those destinations.
The list will be expanded until the beginning of the third quarter, he said.
A few more countries could be added this week, Mr Al Shaiba said.
Abu Dhabi also plans to ease restrictions on a number of tourism activities.
The move is expected to positively affect the sector as it will increase the capacity of “many of activities and attractions”, said Mr Al Shaiba, without providing further details.
The emirate will have different testing protocols for visitors from low-risk and high-risk countries.
Those coming from countries with higher infection rates will have to undergo two tests – one before they travel and another upon arrival.
“People who will come from low-risk countries will take just one test, either before or after they land in Abu Dhabi,” he said.
Abu Dhabi will announce details of travel protocols later when it unveils its summer tourism promotion campaign, said Mr Al Shaiba.
Travellers from India, the emirate’s second-biggest source market after the UK and the world’s second-highest population, will still need to quarantine.
As of yesterday, India had about 24.7 million Covid-19 infections, second only to the US.
Given the current situation in India, the UAE capital will not be able to allow quarantine-free travel by July but may consider changing India’s status in September, said Mr Al Shaiba.
“It also depends on India itself, if they will allow their people to travel,” he said.
The temporary closure of the Indian market poses a challenge for Abu Dhabi and the department is closely monitoring the situation.
“We will see when India recovers, either partially or fully. We will definitely reactivate that market when the time will come,” he said.
“We will see when India recovers, either partially or fully. We will definitely reactivate that market when the time will come,” said Mr Al Shaiba.
To offset the impact, the emirate is exploring opportunities in other markets, said Mr Al Shaiba.
“Africa might be another opportunity for us and also some of the eastern European countries,” he said.
Abu Dhabi will also look at some smaller markets in Asia to boost tourist numbers.
The offer of quarantine-free travel will give people in different source markets a safe destination to visit.
Mr Al Shaiba said there had already been some encouraging indicators, especially from Russia.
From both an infrastructure and safety perspective, the emirate is ready to welcome visitors after its rapid vaccination campaign helped to build confidence, he said.
While the global tourism industry has been the hardest hit by the pandemic, Abu Dhabi responded well to the crisis and performed better than some of its peers last year.
It is adapting to the changed landscape but it will take another two years before inbound traveller numbers return to the 11.35 million visitors recorded before the pandemic, said Mr Al Shaiba.
“Today, let us be realistic ... we are going back to the base of 2019 maybe by 2023,” he said.
The department’s focus will also be on increasing the length of overnight stays to two or 2.6 nights on average over the next three years.
The emirate’s long-term goal is to attract 23 million visitors a year and generate 4 per cent of gross domestic product from tourism by 2030.
Abu Dhabi has about 33,000 hotel rooms, which is more than enough to accommodate the expected rise in tourist numbers when quarantine-free travel begins.
The emirate is also investing in ecological sites as it repositions itself to tap into the eco-tourism market.
A pipeline of more eco-friendly destinations is already being drawn up, said Mr Al Shaiba.
“We will make this part very strong. We will announce a lot of projects very soon.”