With travel restrictions in the UAE easing and the Eid Al Adha holidays around the corner, taking a holiday is on a lot of people’s minds.
However, given the constant changes with entry restrictions, visa rules and available flights amid the Covid-19 pandemic, booking a holiday is a lot less straightforward than it used to be.
As well as deciding on where you want to go and when, there are myriad other factors that you need to consider before you get anywhere close to booking a trip.
Here are the main ones to keep in mind.
Are you allowed to travel?
Before you even think about holidays, if you don’t already know what your company’s stance on travel is, then you should speak to your human resources department and find out.
Several companies are restricting travel for employees, while others are allowing people to travel, but on the understanding that they will be put on unpaid leave should they go overseas and not be able to get back.
The changeable nature of the coronavirus pandemic means that HR policies are constantly being updated, so keep in mind that even if you are allowed to travel when you book your trip, things may change by the time you actually leave.
What cover do you have against Covid-19 cancellations?
If your company is happy for you to travel, the next thing you need to consider is insurance. Covid-19 has shown travel insurance to be critical for anyone venturing far from home, but not all policies will protect you against issues arising from the pandemic.
Make sure you buy a policy that covers you against coronavirus-related treatment or trip cancellations. Typically, insurance policies will not cover if you choose to travel to a destination where a government warning is in place. This shouldn't be the case for bookings that were made before government warnings were announced, but check the fine print.
Also be aware that many policies exclude pandemics and epidemics. One way to get around this is to add a "cancel for any reason" clause to your policy. This can cost as much as 40 per cent more, but typically allows you to get a large percentage of money back if you have to cancel your trip for any reason. It’s also worth saying that insurance policies don’t pay for any coronavirus tests you need as a requirement for entry into a country, so budget for that when planning travel.
Travelling without insurance is less of an option now, with many countries insisting that people have a valid policy to gain entry. Cambodia, for instance, now requires tourists to have at least Dh183,000 of coverage in health insurance. In the UAE, travellers need Covid-19 insurance and anyone who arrives in the country without it, must sign a waiver to commit to covering all costs should they fall ill.
Is it even safe to travel?
There are several charts available documenting the levels of Covid-19 in countries, making it easy to find out where a particular destination ranks in terms of how many cases of coronavirus it has. These numbers can help you determine if a destination is safe to visit, however, it's worth digging a little deeper.
The UAE has one of the highest rates of coronavirus testing per one million of its population. Some countries have reported fewer numbers of Covid-19 cases, but have much lower testing rates. For example Vietnam, which is ranked 159th for active cases has only carried out 2,824 cases per one million of its population. Delving into the numbers can help you decide if a country is safe to visit or whether it's worth risking a trip.
Can you get to where you want to go?
Before booking anything, you need to check if you can legally travel to your chosen destination. After a long period of international flight suspensions and travel being paused to and from most countries, entry regulations have eased off and there are now several places welcoming visitors. Checking the interactive map published by Iata is a good place to start when it comes to finding out which countries are open to tourists.
Once you’ve found somewhere that you can travel to, you need to check what measures are in place for arriving visitors. Do you have to take a negative PCR test certificate with you, will you have to pay for a Covid-19 test at the airport, are there restrictions on where you can go while waiting on your test results?
In some places, such as Sri Lanka, which is set to open to travellers in August, tourists are welcome but with obligatory Covid-19 testing in place at the airport. After this, tourists must spend their first night in Negombo or Colombo, both of which are near the airport. Once test results come back negative, travellers can venture further afield.
It's also worth considering how far you will travel. Experts generally agree that travellers have more control over exposure when driving rather than flying, so perhaps its worth going somewhere closer to home that allows you to skip the flight and get there by road.
Finally, if you've been craving a trip to Egypt to visit the pyramids or are planning some whitewater rafting action in Thailand, make sure you'll actually be able to do that when you get there. Check to see if there are any curfews in place that could limit night-time excursions, and visit the websites of popular tourist attractions and activities to see if they are operational and whether you need to pre-book a visit.
How long should you go for?
With all the new restrictions in place for travel, is it still worth going on a short break? Or would a month-long stay in a far-flung destination serve you better?
According to Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato, there's been an inclination towards extended trips. “Longer, more intrepid travel at a slower pace, in wild and natural spaces,” is what he thinks will be on the agenda for many people.
But there are pros and cons for both long and short trips. If you're craving a change of scenery then a short break to somewhere that's a three to four-hour flight away might do you the world of good and means less time spent on a plane in close proximity to other people. On the other hand, it might feel like the added expenses of travel – such as Covid-19 tests and travel insurance – are not as good value when you're only going away for a few days.
Heading off for a longer period certainly makes that Dh370 coronavirus test seem like better value, if you average it out at a per day cost. You may even find some long-stay bargains as hotel owners and Airbnb hosts are keen to increase the number of nights that they have secured business.
However, the longer you plan to be away from home, the higher the chances are that the situation will evolve, which runs a higher risk of things changing while you're out of the country. You also need to be confident in being away from home for such a long period of time, which might be mentally challenging given how used we've all gotten to staying in our houses.
Where should you stay?
When it comes to where you're going to stay, it’s worth doing your research to find out which places are putting safety first.
"We have already seen hotel operators defining new standards in their hygiene practices from check-in to check-out as they prioritise the safety of their guests," explains Matthew Sliedrecht, director of marketing at Cleartrip, a global online travel company.
Hotel brands have upgraded their health and safety precautions to address the spread of Covid-19. Some examples include Hilton’s CleanStay, Accor's All Safe label and Marriott’s Commitment to Clean initiative. Several hotels have also sought official safe verification by independent auditors or organisations such as Bureau Veritas or the World Travel and Tourism Council. Booking a stay in an approved hotel can help give you peace of mind that procedures are in place to protect guests checking in.
Airbnb has also enhanced its cleaning protocols to include specific information on Covid-19 prevention. This includes the use of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves for hosts or cleaners, as well as disinfectants that are approved by regulatory authorities. Hosts who commit to these protocols are highlighted on Airbnb's listings, so guests can choose a stay they know is safer.
What if things don’t go as planned?
The coronavirus pandemic is a rapidly changing situation with new measures and rules being announced day by day, so it's important to have contingency plans in place in case things change once you leave.
Countries could decide to close their borders, limit who can return or flights might be cancelled with little notice, which could stop you from returning from a trip when you originally planned to.
If you have pets, speak to the friend you're leaving them with or the boarding kennel they are staying in to discuss what might happen if you need them to keep them for longer. Make sure that someone has a spare key for your home so that the right people can get access to it should there be any electrical or flooding emergencies. It might also be an idea to travel with your work laptop – if you get stranded overseas, you might be able to save your job if you can continue to work remotely.
Thousands of UAE residents have been stuck outside the country since March, so being marooned overseas is a very real consideration when planning travel. While a three-month stay in the Maldives might sound like paradise, the realities of paying daily hotel rates, not being able to work and being unsure how long it will be before you can go home paint an entirely different scenario.