Malls, theme parks and hotels in the UAE are anticipating a surge in customers as the country shifts to the new weekend, industry leaders have said.
Professionals in hospitality and retail told The National that they expect an increase in trade from January 3 when more workers will enjoy a two-and-a-half-day weekend.
Alhasan Kaabous Alzaabi, vice president of operations at Farah Experiences, which operates Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld and Warner Bros World in Abu Dhabi, described the move as “pivotal”.
“Since it will align with several of our key source markets’ weekends, we also anticipate that the new shift will serve to boost tourism to the UAE,” he said.
“We hope this will have a positive domino effect on our theme parks and attractions and encourage greater visitation in the years to come.”
The UAE announced earlier this month that as of January 3 all federal workers will finish work at midday on Fridays and not return to work until Monday morning. Many private companies are following suit and shifting the weekend to Saturday and Sunday, although only one in four will be letting people leave early on Fridays.
Retail bosses also foresee increased footfall in malls because the new weekend will make the UAE more attractive to tourists looking for a short break.
“The longer weekends and aligning the work week with that of the western world will positively impact various sectors, including retail,” said Saoud Khoory, chief retail officer at Aldar Investment, which owns Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi.
“We anticipate that it will further strengthen the UAE's tourist appeal for shorter visits and drive increased footfall to various shopping and tourist attractions across the country,” he said.
Mall bosses will monitor the number of customers visiting in the next few weeks and hire more staff if needed, he said.
The hospitality sector is also gearing up for “Saturdays to become the new Fridays”.
The popularity of time-honoured traditions such as brunch might now shift from Friday to Saturday, said Christeena Thiruvinkal, director of marketing and communication at the Beach Rotana hotel in Abu Dhabi.
“We definitely think Saturday brunch will become a bigger thing now as people can now use Friday as the day to truly relax,” she said.
“Fridays and Sundays could be relaxing days, while Saturday might be the day that is filled with activities.”
Staycations are likely to become more popular because families will be able to enjoy a longer weekend, she said.
The Rotana group of hotels has not adopted the four-and-a-half-day work week because most employees work shifts, but it has reduced staff’s working day from 10 hours to nine.
Ms Thiruvinkal said this would help staff to gain a better work-life balance.
“It’s the hospitality industry, so we work all sorts of hours, but this one less hour a day will help colleagues with their physical and mental health,” she said.
The weekend change is particularly welcome for members of staff who have families because it means they will get to spend more time with their children before bedtime, she said.