UAE residents flock to meet family in Europe to avoid hotel quarantine in home countries

Malta, Cyprus and Greece are among the top locations to meet relatives halfway

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Thousands of UAE residents plan to meet relatives in Europe and the Caucasus this summer.

Families are holidaying together in destinations that include Iceland, Malta and Cyprus – forgoing trips home as the prospect of hotel quarantine proves too much to bear.

The Greek islands, Georgia and Armenia are also among the top choices.

Meeting relatives halfway has proved more attractive than 10-night hotel quarantine in places such as the UK and Ireland.

We have seen a very strong pick up in enquiries for different holiday destinations, especially Malta, Cyprus and the Greek islands

Local travel agents said airlines are offering "seasonal flights to a number of destinations that offer hassle-free travel" for vaccinated passengers.

That is leading to an increase in bookings and enquiries from travellers who would usually spend their summers at home in countries such as the UK, Philippines, India and Ireland.

“We have seen a very strong pick up in enquiries for different holiday destinations, especially Malta, Cyprus and the Greek islands,” said Paul Farrell, owner of Premium Choice Travels in Dubai's Jumeirah Lakes Towers.

“Emirates and Etihad launched seasonal flights to Mykonos and Santorini in Greece, which has created a lot of interest due to the travel corridor with the UAE.

“Because there are not many locations or countries that people can travel to easily, airlines and hotel providers are looking to entice people back, and as a result, prices haven’t really increased significantly.”

Mr Farrell said his agency has also been getting requests for longer stays in European destinations that offer hassle-free travel for UAE residents.

Many are using their accumulated annual leave for a vacation rather than just a staycation.

“Clients are looking for a lot of self-catering packages that extend beyond the traditional holiday stay duration,” he said.

“More people are looking to stay beyond the usual 10 days or two weeks. I’ve got one family at the moment that wants to go to Cyprus for three weeks and similar enquires for Thailand, as that is meant to open on July 1.”

Ellanie Villena, owner of Angel Wings International Tourism travel agency in Dubai, said she received a lot more enquiries for destinations such as Armenia and Georgia for two to three-week stays.

Usually, the destinations are popular for long weekends or Eid breaks but over the past few months, bookings increased because people have a lot of annual leave to use up before the end of the year.

Mother-of-two Laura Morgan usually spends a large chunk of her summer back home in the UK, but this year plans have changed.

“The plan is to meet my mother in Cyprus on July 14. We were due to go to Thailand but she would have been travelling from the UK and couldn’t get travel insurance,” she said.

“She’s already had one flight cancelled from the UK to Cyprus but we have booked a second, so fingers crossed it all goes okay.

“We’re going for 20 nights and not bothering to go to the UK after. There is just too much uncertainty and I’m still stressed after our visit there at Christmas.”

Ms Morgan, who has lived in Dubai for seven years and has a one and three-year-old, said booking flights to Cyprus from the UAE was straightforward because she and her husband were fully vaccinated.

“Our flights are booked and we booked a large self-catering villa on Airbnb but managed to find a place that would let us cancel for free up to July 9,” she said.

“Travelling is stressful right now. My mum is having a panic because of the traffic-light system for travel in the UK.

"There is only two weeks to go until we are meant to meet but it feels like a lifetime away with so much uncertainty.”

Maria Lopez, a fashion designer from the Philippines, is travelling to Georgia to meet her cousin and brother who live in the UK.

With family living all over the world, including the US, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, the mother-of-two said they usually all have a reunion in the Philippines every two years.

“We just can’t manage a trip home this year. I don’t want to risk getting stuck in the Philippines as I need to return to work by the end of July and things there are still a little unstable,” she said.

“We talked about cancelling the family reunion altogether but just two days ago three of us decided to book flights to Georgia and we will spend three weeks there.

“I am vaccinated so I just have to get a PCR test within 72 hours before I fly back to UAE so it’s simple.

“My flight was less than Dh2,000 and the accommodation is affordable. If I don’t meet at least some of my family now I might not see them for another year and I can’t face that.”

In the past, the UK was one of the UAE's top five destinations for holidays and room nights, however, since mid-January, the Emirates have been on the UK’s red list, meaning anyone travelling from the UAE must isolate in a managed hotel for 10 days.

In the Philippines, unvaccinated passengers are required to quarantine for 14 days, with 10 in a government-managed hotel.

Vaccinated passengers must show proof of inoculation before going into quarantine for just seven days.