Dubai develops tourism with Ramadan in mind

In 2020, Ramadan will fall over March and April, a popular period for tourists from Europe who come the UAE for the spring break and Easter holidays.

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DUBAI // As Ramadan moves closer to the emirate’s peak tourist season, moves are under way to ensure hotels and restaurants run as smoothly as possible for visitors while also respecting the traditions of the holy month.

In 2020, Ramadan will fall over March and April, a popular period for tourists from Europe who come to the UAE for the spring break and Easter holidays.

Two years ago, food courts in some malls discretely opened, while last year hotel licensing laws allowed alcoholic beverages to be served before sunset in selected areas, something not formalised in other emirates.

Etienne Haro, food and beverage director at the Fairmont Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, said changes were vital for business but should be handled ­sensitively. “The market in Dubai is quite specific and is around seven to eight months long, so as Ramadan draws in to high season, it cuts the season shorter.”

Although licensing rules allow alcohol to be served on hotel premises, Mr Haro said doing so “comes with responsibility”.

Operators need to ensure food and drink is kept away from the public eye, respecting local customs, he said.

“It’s not business as usual, but last year we captured a lot more business at office closing times with sunset being pretty late,” he said. “Shorter working hours also allow that. We’ve missed that business until now so this generates extra footfall. Last year there were the Euros [football tournament] so it was very helpful.”

Nasif Kayed, founder and chief executive of The Arab Culturalist institution, said Dubai “should and can” find the balance between meeting the needs of tourists and respecting the most holy time of year for Muslims.

“To adapt and be creative is not against the religion but part of the Arab culture of hospitality,” he said.

“In the meantime in Dubai, we need to keep the atmosphere so people still feel that it’s Ramadan. For fasting people, it’s their right to enjoy the atmosphere of Ramadan. I hope we continue to accommodate the right of every Muslim who lives here who wants it to feels like it’s Ramadan, just like people want to feel like it’s Christmas or Diwali.”

He said Dubai did an excellent job of making visitors feel happy “by being an open society and an open market”.

“We are an evolving country and 12 months of the year people are visiting. It used to be that nothing was open and we saw that created hardship for the people visiting, not only businesses. “For us, we say let’s have a balance for people for when food and drink is essential, they can go and eat and drink discretely. I believe there’s a fine balance between that and making sure we have a fully executed Ramadan.”

Dubai Parks and Resorts are promoting food and drinks packages for summer, including Ramadan, and even in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari World will have designated areas for food and drinks.

Patrick Antaki, complex manager of the Al Maha desert resort and general manager of Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah, said Ramadan was no longer the quiet time it once was.

“The relaxation of rules in Dubai has had a positive effect on the hospitality business,” he said. “Over the past few years we have seen an increase in occupancy.”

Robin Sharma, a lecturer in ­hospitality and tourism for Amity University, said with about a million people visiting Dubai during Ramadan, it was important to accommodate everyone.

“Ramadan is a beautiful month, in which people enjoy doing things together, such as fasting, gathering for prayer, inviting friends to iftar to break the fast. Even non-Muslims are part of it.

“Dubai is promoted as a world-class tourist destination and the move to relax strict laws on food and alcohol is about ensuring a superlative visitor experience.

“The restaurants and food courts have dedicated sections where one can eat and drink; the laws relaxed for children and elderly people or anyone with medical conditions. This is where Dubai keeps on surprising us year after year by taking care of the entire community, but still adhering to their laws.”