Travel Unpacked: Visa-free Eid escapes and how to find the best summer flight deals

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

AlUla's newest hotel has opened in Saudi Arabia, ahead of the summer travel season. Photo: Maxime Seltenrijch / Dar Tantora The House Hotel
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With summer just around the corner, many are thinking about travel. While 92 per cent of UAE travellers plan to take a summer holiday, 51 per cent are yet to book, according to the latest data from Skyscanner. The online travel company has revealed some top tips, including the cheapest week to fly.

In Saudi Arabia, away from the launch of the Middle East's most expensive hotel in the Red Sea, the ancient destination of AlUla is gearing up for the hottest season of the year with special offers, new hotels and exciting activities. And with Eid Al Adha right around the corner, travellers planning a getaway might want to consider a visa-free destination.

Elsewhere, Sweden's Icehotel is preparing for another exciting year after announcing the artists that will transform the pop-up property into an ice and snow spectacle ahead of its 35th annual opening in December.

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

August 12 is the cheapest week to book summer flights says Skyscanner

Travellers who are making plans for summer might want to consider waiting until August to head overseas. That's according to Skyscanner, which reveals that the week of August 12 is the cheapest time to fly out of the UAE.

Flights will be relatively empty – because only 3 per cent of UAE travellers surveyed by the company plan to travel that week, despite lower prices. According to the data, the busiest period will be the first two weeks of July, and that means premium airfares.

Skyscanner's updated savings generator tool offers insights into the cheapest time to travel and when to book. The company's latest data shows that indecision is the top reason for not booking flights, while others are holding off for good deals.

For those looking for value destinations, Skyscanner has listed the places that have seen the biggest price drops this year compared to last. Flights to Istanbul are down 24 per cent, with Cairo and Manchester dropping 20 per cent. For Amman and Paris, it is 15 per cent cheaper than in 2023.

“We know how much UAE travellers look forward to and research their summer holiday – this year perhaps more than any,” said Ayoub El Mamoun, Skyscanner’s travel trends and destination expert. “We prioritise tools that help people get away affordably.”

AlUla launches summer specials and opens eco-luxury earth-clad hotel

Saudi Arabia’s AlUla is gearing up for a busy season. Located in the kingdom’s north-west, the ancient region enjoys a cooler and less humid summer climate than neighbouring cities, with temperatures up to 10°C lower than other destinations in the Gulf.

The destination has unveiled a wealth of summer activities for travellers, including hiking, hot air ballooning and new guided tours. There are also hotel deals on offer with Banyan Tree AlUla offering 15 per cent off bookings made at least 15 days in advance and Habitas AlUla running a summer package inclusive of daily complimentary breakfast and dinner, plus credit to spend at Thuraya Wellness spa.

More affordable getaways are available at Cloud7 Residences, where summer visitors can enjoy four nights for the price of three, while traditional-inspired Shaden, Ashar and Saharay AlUla Resorts also have deals on room rates.

Travellers heading to the destination can take part in several cultural activities. The region’s first design centre, Madrasat Addeera, is running workshops in jewellery making, embroidery and ceramics while outdoor family film nights are on the agenda Cinema AlJadidah on weekends throughout May and June.

AlUla’s first hot balloon operator, Hero Balloon Flights, is running scenic trips and nature lovers can embark on evening walks through the Sharaan Nature Reserve or tackle the Madhakel Wildlife Hike through narrow canyons.

AlUla Desert Blaze returns for its second event in August, with hundreds of runners signed up for the race. Those keen to see Hegra can do so in two new ways: on a night tour of the Nabataean kingdom under a starlit sky or on a nature tour.

The region is also celebrating the launch of its newest hotel. Dar Tantora The House Hotel has opened in the heart of the Old Town and within walking distance of the Incense Road Market, AlJadidah Arts District and the AlUla Oasis.

The world’s first earth-clad hotel was constructed using traditional techniques and materials, and making use of restored original irrigation and ventilation systems to minimise environmental impact. With 30 duplex dars (rooms) and suites, the hotel also has an infinity pool, yoga and meditation studio, a spa and a restaurant with a zero-waste philosophy and a local sourcing model. The original mud brick walls, stonework, windows and historical murals have been carefully restored.

Visa-free Eid escapes for UAE residents

The UAE’s next public holiday is just around the corner, as the country prepares to celebrate Eid Al Adha.

The first day is expected to fall on June 16, with most people enjoying a two-day break. Several destinations allow UAE residents to travel without being granted a visa ahead of time, meaning last-minute bookings are easy. From the Maldives to Georgia, here are a few destinations welcoming UAE travellers without pre-arranged visas.

For nature, mountain air and summertime hikes, Georgia is the place to go. Despite its small size, the Caucasus country is home to 12 different climate zones, making it one of the most ecologically diverse destinations in the world. Direct flights are available from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Tbilisi and to Kutaisi, and no visa for UAE residents is needed, making the country within easy reach. From Parisian-like boulevards in the capital to epic hiking in the mountains, it has plenty to offer.

There's nowhere quite like the Maldives when it comes to island getaways. With flights just four hours from the UAE, the Indian Ocean hotspot is always a favourite, not least because residents are granted a visa on arrival. Having moved away from its reputation as a honeymooner haven, the archipelago welcomes travellers of all ilks, from those on multi-generational family escapes to solo travellers seeking new connections.

Jordan is one of the Middle East's jewels. From ancient Petra to the desert dunes in Wadi Rum, it has something for everyone. UAE travellers can fly direct to the capital Amman in around three hours for eclectic shopping and a blossoming culinary scene.

In the country's southern central district, the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan's largest nature reserve, is worth a visit. Cross-country cycling expeditions are also worth trying for a dose of adventure. No visa is needed for UAE citizens, while residents will be granted a visa on arrival.

Another Indian Ocean holiday hotspot that welcomes UAE travellers with a visa on arrival (provided they possess a return ticket) is the Seychelles. Flight times to the archipelago are under five hours, and the destination offers some of the world's most beautiful beaches, giant tortoises, and luxury resorts. June is also one of the best times to visit the African destination thanks to clear blue skies and sparkling waters, ideal for snorkelling and diving.

Sweden’s Icehotel gears up for winter season

While much of the world is looking ahead to summer, Sweden's IceHotel is on the countdown to winter.

The world's first Icehotel is created out of snow and natural ice from the Torner River every winter when snow covers the small village of Jukkasjärvi in the north of Sweden. This year, travellers can expect big celebrations. The hotel is celebrating its 35th year, and work from 27 artists from 13 countries will transform the space.

The seasonal hotel spans 2,800-square-metres and will feature everything from a colossal rhinoceros to an intricate bird's nest sculpted from ice and snow when it opens in December.

A team of artists, construction specialists, ice production staff, and others will work together to bring the hotel suites to life. When spring returns, the seasonal structures will melt back into ice water, although a section of the hotel will remain so that visitors can experience the ice and snow year-round.

“We had interesting discussions about everything from rhinos to labyrinths before we could agree on the 14 concepts that will become a reality this winter,” said Icehotel creative Luca Roncoroni, who selected the winning designs from 114 concepts.

As part of the 35th-year celebrations, a new Icebar is being installed in the hotel's permanent structure. “I look forward to stepping into Icehotel 35 and showing the world what I believe will be a spectacular version,” said chief executive Marie Herrey.

Updated: May 30, 2024, 7:06 AM