Dubai's economy to reap dividends of Covid-19 vaccine as travel demand rebounds, tourism chief says

Domestic tourism has helped to 'soften the blow' of the loss of international visitors due to the pandemic

DUBAI UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 16 NOVEMBER 2020. 2020 Cityscape Exhibition at the Dubai Trade Center. His Excellency Helal Saeed Al Marri has been Director General of the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Sarmad Khan. Section: National.
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Dubai's economy will reap immediate benefits from a Covid-19 vaccine as confidence and travel demand rebounds, the head of its tourism department said.

The emirate, the commercial and financial hub of the Middle East, has already witnessed a surge in travel bookings for the next two months as some of its source markets open up and safety-conscious travellers choose it as a holiday destination, Helal Saeed Al Marri, director general of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, told the Cityscape Summit on Monday.

“I think it [the vaccine impact] is immediate,” Mr Al Marri said at the event, which took place at Dubai World Trade Centre.

It is still not known when a global inoculation programme will begin, but once that happens “it obviously improves confidence, we have seen that in the public markets”, he added.

Mr Al Marri’s comments came on the day when US biotechnology company Moderna said its Covid-19 vaccine was 94.5 per cent effective against the virus in its preliminary late-stage clinical trial. A vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and Russia's Sputnik V vaccine also both said last week that early trial results have recorded efficacy rates of more than 90 per cent.

Drug makers around the world are racing to bring a vaccine to market to help the world recover from the worst pandemic in more than a century. Covid-19 has infected more than 54 million people and killed over 1.32 million. The virus has tipped the global economy into its worst recession since the 1930s, severely disrupting the travel and tourism industry.

Travel demand is showing signs of an uneven recovery, as some markets are demonstrating resurgence even without a vaccine in place with the development of effective safety protocols that remove quarantine requirements.

In Dubai, which received close to 17 million visitors last year, the emirate’s response in handling the pandemic and maintaining safety standards is driving tourism's recovery, Mr Al Marri said.

“Safety is on top of the travellers' mind. We have seen that through booking and searches,” he said.

“The way Dubai has handled this pandemic and put peoples’ safety at the forefront of every decision … people are seeing that around the world and the reaction has been very, very positive.”

Dubai, from accounting for 10 to 20 per cent of global travel searches in May, has come up to almost at the same levels of searches seen last year in some markets.

“People are very eager to travel in the near future. We are seeing booking picking up for December and January very heavily,” he added.

An early decision to open the emirate to international tourists with safety protocols, and a surge in domestic tourism have both helped the sector, but overall numbers are still lower, he said.

“When you look at Dubai as a tourism destination, which last year received just under 17 million people, domestic tourism does not replace [international tourism].

“But there is a big difference between having no tourism [and] operating at a large negative cash flow versus domestic tourism moving the industry towards the breakeven point, which is the key.”

Domestic tourists have “softened the blow” and allowed tourism attractions and hospitality establishments to keep staff employed, he added.

“What I do expect to happen, especially 2021 being [the year of] Expo and all, is for travel to return and return strong.”

The emirate has also seen an uptick in different types of tourists, including applicants for a longer-term visa that allows visitors to work remotely for their companies while staying in the emirate, Mr Al Marri said.

“We have seen a very large interest in the new visa programmes – with tens of thousands registering interest – and this is due in part to the attractive environment of living in Dubai,” he said.