Travel Unpacked: Ramadan in-flight iftars and Japan reminds tourists to behave

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

Geishas, traditional Japanese female entertainers, perform their dance during a press preview of the annual Azuma Odori Dance Festival at the Shinbashi Enbujo Theater in Tokyo, Japan May 23, 2018.  REUTERS/Issei Kato     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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As Japan continues to lure travellers from around the world, the country is also battling overtourism in some regions, and tourists in Kyoto are being reminded of the rules in place when visiting the ancient city. The world's largest hotel group is getting in on the Taylor Swift hype with a host of stay-and-play packages for the singer's Eras Tour.

In the UAE, Zayed International Airport has welcomed more than one million passengers to the new Abu Dhabi terminal since it opened in November, and airlines are marking Ramadan with in-flight iftars.

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

More than one million passengers pass through Zayed International Airport

Abu Dhabi’s new terminal has been busy since it opened to passengers in November, with more than one million passengers passing through Zayed International Airport in just over four months.

Travellers using the new terminal are processed using the world’s first multi-biometric entry and exit system. This uses facial recognition technology meaning travellers don’t need to show multiple documents when clearing border controls and can go from “curb to gate” in just 12 seconds.

“The initial roll-out of cutting-edge biometrics at Zayed International Airport underscores our dedication to enhancing airport experiences through innovation and technology, ensuring efficiency, convenience and superior service,” said Elena Sorlini, managing director and chief executive at the airport in the UAE capital. “Once fully implemented, Abu Dhabi will be a pioneer as the world's first airport with biometrics integrated at every stage, ensuring travellers enjoy a seamless, safe and secure journey.”

Following its success in Abu Dhabi, the technology has been rolled out across the UAE’s four international airports including in Dubai.

Japan tells tourists to behave

Tourists travelling to Japan are being asked to take note of special rules in place in the city of Kyoto.

Famed for its rich cultural heritage and traditional geiko – the regional term for geisha – Kyoto has guidance in place to protect these women who are largely considered gatekeepers of Japan's traditional arts.

Contrary to some media reports, no official new rules have been issued by Kyoto City Tourism Association, a representative from the Japan National Tourism Organisation told The National. However, a long list of guidelines for visitors has been in place since December.

The rules relate to visits in the area of Gion, which is known for its picturesque tea houses where geiko and maiko (geisha apprentices) live and work.

Certain streets and places in Gion are off-limits to tourists, according to the notice from authorities in Southern Gionmachi.

“This is therefore not a theme park, but a place where people live their daily lives. Please be considerate of those who live here, and refrain from nuisance behaviour,” reads the notice.

Travellers are reminded not to stop geiko in the street, crowd around them or follow them from place to place. “The geiko and maiko are not mascot characters,” reads the advice.

Tourists keen on seeing the women in action are instead advised to watch a Kyomai (traditional Kyoto-style dance) at Gion Corner, where the women perform every evening.

Tourists are not allowed to touch the women or their clothes, and doing so can lead to imprisonment of up to six months. Littering in the region is also prohibited, with $200 fines for anyone caught in the act.

After being closed to the world for almost 1,000 days during the pandemic, Japan has been courting visitors with initiatives to attract affluent holidaymakers and encourage travellers to stay for longer. Tourism levels in the country are rebounding to pre-pandemic levels with more than 22 million visitors last year, the largest number since 2019.

Emirates and Etihad to serve in-flight iftars

Ramadan has begun and UAE airlines are planning to mark the month with a host of in-flight iftars.

Etihad Airways is serving Ramadan dishes that blend traditional Emirati flavours and modern ones, with the likes of lamb bukhari with smoked cardamom yoghurt and chicken machboos pinza on the menu. Travellers flying in economy class will be served Arabic meze, as well as a special Vimto mousse dessert.

Etihad passengers breaking their fast just before or after landing will be given Iftar bags decorated with traditional Emirati artwork, containing laban, water and dates. Passengers will also have the chance to donate their air miles during Ramadan.

In Dubai, Emirates is serving iftar meals in boxes featuring patterns by Emirati Al Sadu weavers. These Bedouin women typically come together during Ramadan to spin and weave, while exchanging family news, singing and reciting poetry.

Dishes include baba ghanoush, Moroccan chicken and Arabic baklava. Emirates’s Ramadan boxes will be served in addition to the regular hot meal service.

A smaller iftar box will also be served at select Emirates boarding gates at iftar time, including essentials such as water, laban and dates for travellers to comfortably break their fast.

Romania and Bulgaria to join passport-free Schengen By Air scheme

From March 31, the travel process for Romania and Bulgaria will get simpler as both countries join the Schengen By Air scheme.

Designed to allow easier movement across Europe, the programme will make it simpler for tourists to visit the two eastern European countries. Travellers arriving by air or sea from other Schengen zone countries will not be asked to show passports on arrival. This includes those travelling on flights, cruises and ferries.

Tourists driving or arriving by bus or train into Bulgaria or Romania will still need to show ID as land borders are not part of the new scheme. Rivers and lakes between countries are also considered land borders so travellers should continue to carry their passport or identity card when using these entry points.

Citizens of Romania and Bulgaria will be able to travel passport-free to other Schengen Zone countries and visas issued by both nations after March 31 will give travellers the right to travel through other countries in the zone. From the same date, time spent in either country will count towards maximum travel times in the Schengen Zone for travellers without EU citizenship.

Gig tripping with Marriott and Taylor Swift

As stories of Swift fans flying around the globe to attend her concerts continue to make the rounds, the world’s largest hotel company is getting on board with Swiftie mania.

Marriott Bonvoy – the loyalty programme for Marriott International – has announced new packages that include tickets to the Eras Tour, transport to the gig and an overnight stay.

The bundles are only available for Marriott Bonvoy members, who can trade in hotel stay points for the packages. However, travellers will need to be very loyal Marriott members to be able to afford the deals as they cost 500,000 points.

Marriott’s Taylor Swift Moments packages go on sale on Wednesday, with bundles available for the singer’s tour stops in select cities around the world including Stockholm, Madrid, Zurich, Milan, Hamburg, Vienna, Miami, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Toronto and Vancouver.

Updated: March 12, 2024, 9:01 AM