While the coronavirus pandemic has halted travel plans and cancelled holidays around the world for many, in Abu Dhabi, business seems to be better than ever for the emirate's hotels.
Hotels in the UAE capital are busier this July than they were at the same time last year, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.
And bookings are expected to continue to rise, says the tourism authority, thanks to a number of initiatives and events.
Cases of the coronavirus have dropped to less than 1 per cent per capita in Abu Dhabi City. DCT says this is because of strict measures and increased testing. This seems to have spurred confidence to book hotel stays, however, the tourism authority could provide no further information on occupancy levels.
“The progress we have seen since the start of this month was achieved by simply leveraging our offerings and the existing high standard of hospitality, to help us speed up the enlivenment of our sector and elevate further from that point,” said Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing at DCT Abu Dhabi.
The tourism authority has been working with hotels in Abu Dhabi to introduce enhanced hygiene and safety standards designed to protect hotel guests against the coronavirus.
More than 80 per cent of hotels in the emirate have enrolled in the Go Safe certification programme. To become certified, hotels must introduce several measures including enhanced disinfection of surfaces, new social distancing policies, temperature scans and compulsory face masks for staff and guests.
W Hotel Abu Dhabi – Yas Island was among the first venues to obtain the certification. The hotel closed in March due to Covid-19 restrictions, but reopened for Yas Island's UFC event, and will reopen to guests on Thursday, July 30.
"The UFC Fight Island events bring positivity after times that have been challenging for all of us," says Faiek El Saadani, general manager at W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island.
"This will help renew consumer confidence and give an impetus to travel into Yas Island in particular, and Abu Dhabi in general. As global travel restrictions lift, I am confident that Abu Dhabi will emerge as a preferred travel and events destination."
The news that hotel bookings in July are up in Abu Dhabi is also positive, says El Saadani. "This is good news for hotels on the island and we will be waiting to welcome our guests when the time comes."
Events and Eid staycations to boost bookings
UFC Fight Island is taking place from Saturday, July 11 to Saturday, July 25, with the seven hotels on Yas Island accommodating more than 1,632 local crew members and 609 international delegates during that time.
Another factor that could boost hotel bookings is the upcoming Eid Al Adha holiday at the end of July. Typically, this holiday is a time when hotel bookings rise.
July is generally a quieter time of year for hotels in Abu Dhabi as many residents travel home during summemr, and tourists tend to prefer to visit from November to March when climes are cooler.
But with travel restrictions in place in several destinations across the world, many Abu Dhabi residents are staying put this year and some of them are looking at staycations as a change of scenery from staying at home.
Jane Beniston is one Abu Dhabi resident helping boost the city's hotel bookings. "We’ve booked a staycation in Abu Dhabi for this weekend, and also over Eid. We just want a change of scenery rather than being in the house," she says.
"We will do the beach early morning and late evening and enjoy lunches and dinners that I don’t have to make. Obviously it would be better if the pool was open, but I just want to spend a weekend not in the house."
One hotel in Abu Dhabi, the Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island, said it has experienced an uptake in bookings since hotel restrictions eased.
“With guests seeking value-for-money staycations more than ever, we have seen a very enthusiastic response from UAE residents," explains Burcak Orak, general manager at the resort.
"While borders are still currently closed, the hotel is nonetheless at full capacity during the weekends (with reduced inventory) and our all-inclusive daycation offer has been extremely well received, which we see as a positive sign that people wish to escape and feel safe staying in our hotel."
Reopening facilities could lead to more bookings
Many hotels in Abu Dhabi began reopening in June following an extensive period of sanitisation. Each hotel is following strict guidelines with hotel beaches and fitness centres reopening but swimming pools, kids' clubs and spas remaining closed.
Bettina Lobley, an Abu Dhabi resident of seven years, says she would love a staycation, but will not book anything until more facilities open.
“Having three energetic boys, we would love to do a staycation, but it’s pointless to book an Abu Dhabi hotel without a swimming pool or kids' club open,” she says.
Kay Marsh, another resident in the capital, agrees. "We paid for a Covid test and travelled to Dubai last weekend so we could have a staycation in a hotel with a pool. It was totally worth it."
The border between Abu Dhabi and all other emirates is currently closed to anyone who does not have valid negative Covid-19 test results.
A new screening facility that provides Covid-19 test results in just five minutes has been launched on the border between Dubai and Abu Dhabi this week.
The test costs Dh50 and is available at the last exit on the Sheikh Zayed Road before the Ghantoot checkpoint.
"We would love to support Abu Dhabi hotels, but I won’t book any staycations in the emirate while the pools are closed," adds Marsh.
Private pools catering to single rooms and villas at Abu Dhabi hotels are allowed to reopen but only a handful of hotels have this option.
These include Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island, Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island, Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri, Anantara Eastern Mangroves and Zaya Nurai Island. A surge in demand for these types of rooms mean overnight rates are also high with prices for a one-night stay ranging from Dh2,000 to Dh50,000 on booking.com
Authorities in Abu Dhabi are supporting the tourism industry via a variety of government schemes, including up to 20 per cent rental rebates for restaurants, tourism and entertainment facilities. Tourism and municipality fees have also been scrapped for some outlets.
DCT Abu Dhabi also said that the emirate was cautiously moving towards opening its borders to visitors, but gave no further information on a timeline.