Travellers from the UAE have been booking more flights to the UK after it reviewed its rules on accepted vaccinations.
Flight bookings rose by 30 per cent after the announcement that the UK would approve the Sinopharm vaccine, according to exclusive data given to The National from Skyscanner.
The online travel agency also found that people are planning to fly relatively early to the UK for the festive period. The week starting Monday, December 6, is the most popular week for economy return travel from the UAE to the UK.
The Sinopharm vaccination, which was widely used in the UAE, will be accepted for proof of vaccination in the UK from November 22, just in time for the festive season. Travellers from the Emirates are planning to fly to England on or after this date, with London, Manchester and Birmingham the most popular hubs to fly to during this period.
On Tuesday, Scotland announced it will follow England in approving the three new vaccines, Sinopharm, Covaxin and Sinovac.
Emirates operates daily flights from Dubai to Glasgow.
Visitors arriving in the UK with a full dose of the Sinopharm jab taken no less than 14 days before travel can now avoid self-isolation on arrival and paying for expensive PCR tests.
Now, they need only take a cheaper lateral flow test before the end of their second day in the country.
“This is exciting news to a lot of people in the UAE,” said Mamoun Hmedan, chief commercial officer and managing director for Mena and India at Wego. "A large proportion of UAE residents have been vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine and couldn’t travel to the UK prior to this announcement.
"The new rules also mean relaxed restrictions for children. So, we will be seeing a lot of family travel as a result once the measures come into effect."
The updated rules clarify that, from Monday, November 22, children will follow the same rules in place for vaccinated passengers.
“Through our platform, we notice that people have been searching but are now booking following the announcement. There are more conversions taking place and the flight bookings from the UAE to UK have increased by 45 per cent,” said Hmedan.
Emirates is also seeing strong bookings on flights from the UAE to the UK, however the airline is not attributing this directly to the announcement on vaccinations.
“UK traffic has always been strong from the UAE, especially during this time when Dubai experiences its tourism peak, and with Expo happening in tandem,” said a spokesperson from the airline.
December airfares remain below 2019 prices
Despite the rise in interest for December travel, airfares on flights to the UK have not risen in tandem.
“The average airfare to the UK from the UAE is around $550, and it is showing a 10 per cent decrease compared to the previous month,” said Hmedan.
Travellers can expect some inflation, but only around key dates. “We expect the airfares to remain the same or to slightly increase, especially around the holiday season.”
Skyscanner's pricing expert Gavin Harris said: “Globally, we’ve seen that, as travel reopens, prices have adjusted accordingly and are in many cases even cheaper than average for some popular destinations. Most providers will aim to keep fares low as they compete to win back travellers’ business.”
Compared to airfares pre-pandemic, today’s tickets are on average up to 44 per cent cheaper for economy return trips from the UAE to the UK when booked in November for travel in December, said Skyscanner.
The biggest savings are to be found on flights to London where airfares average Dh2,169 ($590) today, which is 53 per cent less than they were in 2019, when the average ticket cost Dh4,632.
Travellers flying to Manchester and Birmingham can also expect some savings with airfares for return flights to Manchester averaging about Dh2,970, compared with Dh4,179 in 2019. To Birmingham, direct fares currently average Dh2,706 compared with Dh3,617 pre-pandemic.
Increased capacity and longer holidays
“As further restrictions ease, we would expect to see airlines respond quickly by ramping up supply to meet demand and prices levelling out,” said Harris.
“Over the coming months we expect flight prices to evolve as more clearer paths to recovery are charted out and network planners build in capacity and schedules to allow airlines to fly at scale. We may see some price increases as demand returns, however, we expect airlines will likely continue to offer good value in order to meet this demand and more incentives such as flash sales.”
Once they get to the UK, travellers are planning to stay a little longer, too. The average trip duration for travellers booking via Wego is ranging from eight to 10 days.
“This is a 35 per cent increase compared to the previous month, and shows that people are booking longer holidays and are more reassured to travel,” said Hmedan.