If you want to quantify the damage caused by Covid-19, looking at air travel might be a good place to start. According to the International Air Transport Association, global passenger demand in 2020 was 75.6 per cent below 2019 levels.
These figures might finally start climbing again, after major developments for UAE travel this week. On Tuesday, authorities announced that UAE residents currently in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria and Uganda, all previously on a restricted list, could apply to return. Exceptions were also announced for certain cases, such as students or those coming for medical treatment. And from August 8, passengers travelling from the UAE to the UK will no longer have to undergo a mandatory – and costly – hotel quarantine.
Unprecedented inconvenience for travellers could be on the way out. This will be a relief for people such as British Dubai resident Elaine Cook, who last month spoke to The National about her horrific 10-day stay in UK hotel quarantine with a 22-month-old child and not enough bottled water to go around. Or, people travelling for urgent personal reasons, such as Kanak Raju, a teacher in Dubai who has been in Chennai for weeks, after he was forced to travel home following the death of his brother last year.
Travel, an integral part of a globalised world, is slowly coming back. The UAE’s aviation industry has never been just about its residents. The idea of a "UAE travel sector" encompasses so much more than simply coming to and from the country, with so much international transit traffic coming through the Emirates and relying on its transport infrastructure to stay connected.
Public health challenges remain, and authorities will continue to use measures to suppress cases and, crucially, new variants of Covid-19. Countries leading the field can set an example for the rest of the world as it opens up. The UAE leads vaccination tables, in addition to daily testing. Throughout the pandemic, The National has been keeping up with Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, who for months has been planning to make Dubai a "sanitised outpost" for traffic around the world.
Vaccines are particularly important part of the travel industry's recovery. The US is expected to announce that it will require all foreign visitors to be vaccinated, another move that will normalise vaccine passports, which just months ago were talking points, not the path back to a globalised world.
Government competence will restore confidence in this damaged sector. There will be hiccups. In the space of a week, the UK has lurched from plans to have six separate danger classifications for countries, to reverting to just three. But good news has outweighed the bad this August.
Those who have invested time creating complex itineraries to get home, whether it be returning to the UAE from India via Serbia, or Brits country-hopping in Europe to avoid hotel quarantine, might now be surprised that simpler, cheaper options are so suddenly available. In actual fact, these wins are anything but sudden. They are the product of a world that is learning to live with and not be defined by a deadly virus. The UAE is at the forefront of a new travel industry for our times, and will be bringing the world along with it.