UK to UAE travel could hit all-time high as searches spike for destinations

Monthly search for travel from the UAE to the UK peaks, with 2,351 per cent rise in September

Bookings show people from Britain can't wait to be back in Dubai once more. AFP
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Bookings for flights from the UK to the UAE exceeded pre-pandemic levels in September, as the Emirates' removal from Britain's red list list for travel kick-started a dash to Dubai.

Exclusive data for The National from Skycanner showed Dubai was the second most-searched city destination for return travel from the UK in October, November and December.

The online travel agency also saw a 2,351 per cent surge in searches for flights from the UAE to the UK last month after the UK government announced it would simplify its travel rules.

Such is the force of the resurgence, in both directions, one travel expert is predicting UK to UAE travel could hit an all-time high.

"In the eight weeks since [the UAE's red-list removal] on August 4 ... flight tickets issued from the UK to the UAE climbed from 9 per cent to 85 per cent [of 2019 levels],” said Olivier Ponti, VP Insights at airline data analysts ForwardKeys.

“In the past fortnight, tickets issued from the UK to the UAE surpassed 2019 levels, and I am cautiously optimistic that if there are no further waves of Covid-19, we will see a combination of pent-up demand and the Dubai Expo driving travel from the UK to the UAE to record levels in [the last quarter of 2021].”

Travel agency Thomas Cook's bookings attest to Dubai's perennial appeal among travellers from Britain.

"We’re starting to see Dubai holidays now rise in popularity as more people feel confident they can get away," a spokesperson for the company told The National.

Dubai's reputation for luxury is fuelling the trend.

"We are seeing generally about 80 per cent of our bookings are for 4* and above hotels, and so Dubai’s high end hotels fit into that pattern of people looking to splash out on holidays after so long without them," said Thomas Cook's spokesperson.

While Dubai is the main driver of UK to UAE travel, the UAE as a whole is also extremely popular.

In the past month, Skyscanner data showed it was their sixth most-booked destination for return travel from the UK in October, November and December.

The UAE can expect a noticeably larger influx of people from Britain in the two weeks starting October 11, coinciding with the autumn school holidays in the UK.

Change to UK travel rules boosts UAE to UK traveller numbers

“It’s clear from our data that travellers are delighted with the latest travel news, not just for holidays and leisure travel, but also for those who will now be able to be reunited with loved ones," Skyscanner spokesperson Laura Lindsay told The National.

"We expect the UK’s new simplified travel system will continue to drive this surge in demand in the lead up to both the festive period and winter sun breaks.

"Double vaccinated travellers are now able to plan trips in advance with confidence, thanks to [fewer red-list countries] and fewer restrictions across the board."

Skyscanner's data was corroborated by Thomas Cook, which saw bookings from the UAE to the UK nearly triple when the prospective October 4 rule change was announced in the second week of September.

Clearly pent-up demand is huge and it is being lubricated by cheap deals from the Covid-hit travel industry, which is desperate to get back to pre-pandemic levels.

Skyscanner data showed economy return flights from the UAE to London in October, November and December, which were booked in the past month, are up to 56 per cent cheaper compared to the same period in 2019.

Such tempting deals last month saw the UK become Skyscanner's third most-popular search destination and fifth most-popular booking destination for economy return travel from the UAE in October, November and December.

Travel to and from England is set to surge even further from next Monday when the red list of countries will be reduced to just seven.

The UK government on Thursday announced it was taking 47 countries off the list, including popular winter destinations like Mexico, South Africa and Brazil.

This means fully vaccinated travellers coming into England from those countries no longer have to quarantine in a hotel, take a pre-departure test or a test eight days after arrival.

They will still be required to take a PCR test two days after arriving but this rule is set to be changed to allow lateral flow tests to be taken instead.

The devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland mirrored the changes.

'Light at end of tunnel' for travel industry

British Airways welcomed the government's decision to drastically reduce the number of countries on the red list, to which all but essential travel is banned.

It will resume services and increase frequencies to a number of winter destinations removed from the red list, such as Cape Town and Johannesburg, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires.

Sean Doyle, chairman and chief executive of the airline, said the move represented a "light at the end of a very long tunnel".

“Britain will benefit from this significant reduction in red list countries, and now it’s time to turn our attention to eradicating testing for fully vaccinated travellers to ensure we don’t lose our place on the global stage," he said.

“Once we have a firm date for the reopening of US borders in November, we look forward to reconnecting our two countries, reigniting transatlantic businesses and reuniting families who have been separated for the best part of two years. We are ready, and we look forward to operating our first flights and welcoming back our customers.”

Heathrow Airport in west London also welcomed the rolling back of some restrictions, but said ministers needed to do more to "prioritise the safe return of frictionless travel as soon as possible".

“Further progress has been made today by reducing the red list and extending vaccinated status recognition to more countries. Both moves will restore vital trade routes that will kick start a Global Britain," a spokesperson for Heathrow said.

“However, the missing piece to this is clarity on when cheaper lateral flow tests will be accepted, which is now critical in order to save the half term getaway for many.”

Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said it hoped the recent changes would eventually lead to all testing requirements scrapped for double-jabbed passengers.

But a spokesperson for the group expressed disappointment over the lack of clarity on when PCR tests can be swapped for lateral flow tests.

“With the crucial October half-term just two weeks away we urgently need clarity so that passengers can plan ahead. This is the key booking period between now and Christmas, so time is of the essence," they said.

The UK's Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday the government would make an announcement about changing the rules from PCR to lateral flow in the coming days.

He said ministers hoped to have the new rules implemented by the half-term break.

Updated: October 08, 2021, 1:42 PM