Holidays at home offer bargains galore

On a budget of Dh1,000 a day, a family of four can enjoy a weekend of luxurious living at some of the UAE's best hotels and resorts.

Dubai, UAE - July 23, 2009 - Giovanni De Ambrosis, Italian Chef of Da Vincis Restaurant in the Millennium Airport Hotel, carries a plate of Italian food. (Nicole Hill / The National)
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DUBAI// With the credit crunch squeezing finances, some families are having to face up to the fact that expensive foreign holidays are an impossibility this year. But while for those who want to find out what is on their own doorstep, the good news of the economic downturn is that there are more bargains than ever.

Even with a relatively modest budget of Dh1,000 a day, The National discovered that a family of four could "staycation" in the UAE for a weekend and still enjoy a good time. Hotel rooms, meals in restaurants, visits to popular attractions and even a spot of shopping are still possible while spending an average each day of just Dh250 for each member of the family. The best deals include big name hotels offering rooms for well under Dh500 a night, substantial discounts on eating out and the chance for the children to enjoy some of the most popular attractions free of charge.

The result, tourist officials in Abu Dhabi say, is that many hotels and resorts are enjoying brisk business, with some even posting "no vacancy" signs. Events such as Summer in Abu Dhabi and the Liwa Dates Festival were proving particularly attractive to families, WAM, the state news agency, reported yesterday. A survey by, a website that covers careers in the Middle East, found that 47 per cent of 1,841 UAE residents questioned had cut back on their holiday spending because of the recession. Only 19 per cent said it had remained the same. Overall, the hotel occupancy rate in Abu Dhabi had passed 75 per cent for the first time as families from the GCC region took advantage of lower prices.

The surge in interest has come as hotels and attractions slash charges, in some cases by more than 90 per cent, and add free incentives to entice local holidaymakers. It means families can now save thousands of dirhams, by not spending money on air fare and choosing from a host of promotions aimed at drumming up business during the quieter summer months. Sharon Garrett, of the UAE branch of TravMedia, a news website for the travel industry, said: "Even people who have managed to stay untouched by the economic downturn are conscious of what they are spending and not being away for too long.

"About a decade ago, it was not unusual to stay in a luxury five-star hotel in Dubai, even if you were a resident. That petered out as accommodation options changed and more luxury apartments became available, but now the trend is coming back. "People like to check out what is new on the local market and, while traditionally the summer has always had good rates, now there are far more incentives and very competitive room rates."

Barbara Saunders, of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, said: "People in Dubai should holiday in Abu Dhabi, and vice versa. They are such different entities and we are trying to expand the offering. Where else in the GCC can you get the likes of Sir Bani Yas island? "We want to engage the market on our doorstep as it is substantial. It is characterised by a tendency to travel locally in times of uncertainty, whether it is health-related or financial, so there is great potential."

A couple with two children can find plenty in the way of accommodation, meals and entertainment. Most hotels in the UAE are offering deals at under Dh1,000 a night. People who shop around will find that dozens have cut their prices further to less than Dh500 a night. And there are numerous free or discounted activities being offered to the budget-conscious at resorts and theme parks. If it's top of the range that you are after, you could blow most of the Dh1,000 daily budget at Atlantis, leaving only small change for a Dh4 shawarma in Bur Dubai.

But the Dh960-a-night room rate, reduced from a normal rate of Dh2,900, includes enough entertainment to keep the young ones busy, from free entry to the hotel's Kids' Club and Rush club for teenagers to one free massage as well as access to the Aquaventure water park, usually Dh200 a ticket, and the Lost Chambers labyrinth of underground tunnels. Equally, there would not be much left from a Dh960 room at the InterContinental hotel in Festival City, down from Dh1,500, but it offers a taste of the luxury that Paris Hilton enjoyed when she stayed in Dubai recently.

The four-star Le Méridien Fairway, near Dubai Airport, has reduced its prices from Dh1,800 a night to a walk-in rate of Dh420. Canny holidaymakers can save even more by booking a Dh300 rate online. Its more upmarket sister hotel, Le Méridien Dubai, set in 38 acres and boasting 18 restaurants, quoted Dh660 for a family room (reduced to Dh600 on its website), down from a standard Dh2,160. Elsewhere, there are also bargains aplenty. Rooms in Fujairah could be booked for as little Dh240 online.

Even the ultimate luxury, a stay in the seven-star Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, is within reach for many budgets, with a Dh3,944 room now priced at Dh1,044 for Gulf residents, a saving of nearly 75 per cent. Plan cleverly and families can take advantage of big reductions at restaurants and value-for-money deals. Weekday buffets at under Dh100 a head are on offer, some costing as little as Dh59 per person. Other eateries are serving two meals for the price of one.

Da Vinci's, in the Millennium Airport hotel, was allowing diners to roll a dice at the end of their meal with the number that came up determining the discount off their meal, from 10 per cent for a one to 60 per cent for a six. That promotion has been replaced by a scratchcard game offering the same discounts. Keeping the youngsters occupied can be a problem as the cost of entrance tickets adds up, but the cut-price deals have been extended to attractions. Aquaventure in Dubai has reduced its entry price from Dh285 for adults and Dh220 for children to Dh200 and Dh165 respectively. Nearby, Wild Wadi water park has a Dh195 adult rate and Dh165 for youngsters.

Up to four children can ski free at Ski Dubai with two paying adults, a saving of Dh600. A cheap option in Dubai is a "dive-in movie" at The Montgomerie, the Desert Palm Resort and Hotel or the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, where films can be watched from inflatables in the pool. Prices range from Dh30 to Dh45 for adults and sometimes children can go free. Just Dh10 will get a child into Modhesh World in Dubai where there are free games and rides until August 14.

And while the youngsters are playing, parents can have a free haircut from students at the Formul'A French Hairdressing Academy in Knowledge Village or a bargain Dh60 cut for men at The Lounge in Karama.