Travel Unpacked: Red Sea International opens and the UAE's first direct flight to Penang

The National rounds up the most interesting tourism news you might have missed

Red Sea International Airport is officially open to flights from Riyadh. Photo: Red Sea Global
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The first flight to Saudi Arabia's new Red Sea International Airport touched down on Thursday and it was an Airbus A320 flying in from Riyadh.

In other airport news, Singapore's Changi is set to go passport-free next year, while in France a wheelchair-bound Ryanair passenger was left behind at Bordeaux Airport.

Here's a round-up of recent travel and tourism news – in case you missed it.

Red Sea International Airport celebrates inaugural flight

The first flight to Saudi Arabia's new Red Sea International Airport landed on Thursday. Red Sea Global is celebrating the launch of the twice-weekly Saudia service between Riyadh and the Red Sea, which is now in the beginning phases of its official opening.

The new service departs from King Khalid International Airport every Thursday and Saturday. The flight takes under two hours and returns to Riyadh later the same day.

The Red Sea development, located on Saudi Arabia's western coast, was announced as the kingdom's newest tourism megaproject by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017. It has since become one of the world's most ambitious regenerative tourism projects, developed over 28,000 square kilometres of land, including an archipelago of more than 90 islands, promising turquoise-lined coastlines, unrivalled marine life and a variety of upscale accommodation options.

"We promised to make The Red Sea a place where people from all around the world would come to experience the best of Saudi culture, hospitality and nature," said John Pagano, group chief executive of Red Sea Global. "Now, with the first flight touching down at Red Sea International Airport, and our first resorts receiving bookings, Saudi Arabia’s position on the global tourism map is all but secured."

Iceland set to introduce tourism tax

The land of fire and ice is set to add a new tax for tourists in order to support its climate and sustainability goals, Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir told Bloomberg last week at the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit 2023 in New York.

"Tourism has really grown exponentially in Iceland in the last decade and that obviously is not just creating effects on the climate," she said. "Also most of our guests visit our unspoiled nature and obviously that creates a pressure."

While specifics on the cost and time frame were not revealed, Jakobsdottir noted the fee would "not be high" and would be implemented as city taxes for visitors.

Ryanair leaves wheelchair-bound passenger behind

Ryanair had to do a U-turn on the runway at Bordeaux Airport on Tuesday after the team realised a passenger in a wheelchair had been left behind, reported Sky News.

The British budget airline blamed the French airport for the "unacceptable" incident, saying it had not provided the passenger with "the special assistance required" and that the crew had been "misinformed" that everyone was on board.

The airport, however, hit back saying Ryanair's statement was "false and defamatory", and it was the responsibility of the airline since the passenger was already in the boarding lounge and checked on to the flight.

"When the support assistant took charge of the passenger and her companion to escort them to their aircraft, they realised that the Ryanair teams had closed the aircraft doors and the aircraft was moving," said a spokesperson.

The airport said that was when the pilot was notified of the missing passenger and had to return.

Flydubai launches first UAE flights to Langkawi and Penang

Dubai travellers will soon be able to reach Malaysian hotspots Langkawi and Penang directly, thanks to new services offered by flydubai.

The UAE carrier is the first to connect these destinations from the UAE, and the first to operate flights to Langkawi from the Middle East. Both destinations are known for their pristine beaches and adventure activities. Langkawi is also home to rainforests and stunning landscapes, while Penang offers rich cultural and culinary scenes.

The route will begin from February 10 and the trip to Langkawi will operate via a short stop in Penang, with return flights starting from Dh3,500 and Dh2,700 respectively.

This expands the airline's network in Southeast Asia to four destinations, also including Krabi and Pattaya in Thailand.

Singapore's Changi Airport to go passport-free

Biometric data is how passengers from Singapore's Changi Airport will be getting through immigration clearance as of next year.

"Singapore will be one of the first few countries in the world to introduce automated, passport-free immigration clearance," Josephine Teo, the country's communications minister, said during a parliament session last week.

While biometric technology and facial recognition software are already used in the airport, Teo added the changes will "reduce the need for passengers to repeatedly present their travel documents at touch points and allow for more seamless and convenient processing". This includes at bag drop and boarding.

Teo emphasised, however, that documents will still be needed for countries outside of Singapore that do not have passport-free clearance.

Themed Emily in Paris trips created by Abu Dhabi start-up

Dharma, a travel start-up in Abu Dhabi that offers exclusive trips hosted by famous people and brands, is offering new themed excursions to France's capital for fans of Netflix show Emily in Paris.

The four-night/five-day Paris by Emily experience will offer small group trips inspired by the series starring Lily Collins as Emily Cooper. They are hosted by lifestyle influencers, referred to as "Emileaders", and centre on fashion, lifestyle and romance. This includes visits to private designer ateliers, a French lesson and pastry class.

"Our core conviction is that the future of travel is not about the where but the why," said Charaf El Mansouri, chief executive at Dharma. "So many of us seek travel experiences that are transformational. Series like Emily in Paris make you wish there was a ‘Book This Trip’ button at the end of every episode. That’s the opportunity we see ahead."

Updated: September 25, 2023, 10:24 AM