The coronavirus pandemic has brought holidays to a halt in most parts of the world, but Dubai’s hotels are anticipating a bumper Eid Al Fitr break.
The UAE's leading hoteliers and tourism experts told The National that they expected to see a massive surge in the number of residents looking for staycation deals and activities during the festival.
Flight search engine Skyscanner also said some UAE holidaymakers would look further afield, with the Maldives, Mauritius and Malaga proving popular searches, and Dubai one of their top destinations for incoming tourists.
William Harley-Fleming, cluster general manager of JA The Resort, said it had received bookings from international travellers from Russia, Kazakhstan and Poland.
“Eid is always a popular time for staycations and this year we have noted that many people are not travelling out of the UAE, but still will want a break away,” he said.
“The UAE resident demand for Eid staycations is the most significant this year, particularly as we have gained notable popularity as a family friendly staycation destination throughout the pandemic."
To cater to the demand for Eid bookings, the resort has reopened one of its three properties, JA Lake View Hotel, which will add 348 rooms to its capacity.
At Media One Hotel in Dubai Media City, director of hotel operations Lukas Tremmel said they were expecting a flurry of last-minute reservations.
"In our experience, the booking window for Eid is between three to seven days [beforehand], so we are expecting to see a rise in booking enquiries soon," he said.
“The main reason being, that residents tend to wait on the official announcement from the government on the confirmed dates of Eid.”
He said the market mix in Dubai had changed because of global travel restrictions, and countries that usually generated a lot of bookings during the spring had underperformed.
There are very few holidaymakers from the UK, Germany and Italy. However, Mr Tremmel said, there had been a notable increase in bookings from countries such as Russia and France, compared to 2019.
In terms of deals, Media One Hotel has an all-inclusive offer for Dh799 per person for one night, which includes food in venues such as Qwerty, Cafe M, Coco and garden on 8.
Bargains and flexible booking policies
Despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, Dubai welcomed more than 810,000 international visitors in the first two months of 2021, according to the emirate's tourism authority.
Most visitors in that period came from India, followed by Russia, UK, France and Egypt in that order.
"Although passenger flights have resumed operations, varying regulations, and quarantine requirements, which differ from country to country, can make international travel a tricky process," said Tim Cordon, area senior vice president Middle East and Africa at Radisson Hotels.
“Looking at it from the domestic side, many residents have been opting for mini getaways and staycations, preferring to stay within their country.
“Generally speaking, occasions such as Eid are usually driven by last-minute bookings, but over the past weeks we have already started seeing an increased search demand.”
Mr Cordon said the pandemic had made holidaymakers more picky.
“While location and experiences used to be the main deciding factor, consumers also want to be reassured that hotels are taking their health and safety seriously,” he said.
“It has also become crucial to add value to existing offerings.
"Guests are now looking for incentives such as food and beverage discounts, free upgrades, added value and booking flexibility that enables free cancellation.”
Staycations over foreign travel
Luxury hotel chain Accor said hotels in Dubai would be reaping the rewards this Eid of the UAE's efforts to minimise the spread of Covid-19.
“As the options to go abroad are still quite limited due to travel restrictions, we believe that residents and regional travellers will pick Dubai for their travels during Eid this year,” said Marc Descrozaille, Accor's chief operations officer for India, Middle East and Africa.
“The UAE and Dubai in particular have done a fantastic job in positioning themselves as a very safe location, with clear legislation to ensure all regulations are complied with, which has made it easy for the country to reopen safely for residences, regional travellers and international travellers.”
He said he expected the vast majority of guests to be UAE residents during the Eid break.
“The focus is aimed at offering extra benefits and/or services to residents with families looking for a short break and relaxing experience even if staying within the UAE,” he said.
"We have launched an exclusive promotion for our loyal members that offers them up to 30 per cent off in our properties."
Another hotel chain ready for a booming Eid Al Fitr is Hilton.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen a rise in staycations at our UAE properties,” said Stijn Bastiaens, Hilton's vice president and commercial director, Middle East, Africa & Turkey.
“Residents looking for an escape from the ordinary have opted to stay closer to home and this Eid, we are ready to welcome guests with a range of staycation offers.”
Ras Al Khaimah adventure breaks
Eid is not just about luxury hotel stays, as scores of thrill seekers are expected to head to Ras Al Khaimah during the break, according to the emirate's tourism chief.
Raki Phillips, chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, said visitors would be flocking to the attractions on Jebel Jais – including the Jebel Jais Flight, Jais Sky Tour and Jais Sky Maze.
“Known as the ultimate destination for unique attractions, authentic cultural experiences, thrilling adventures and luxurious hospitality, the Emirate offers something for everyone across its magnificent natural landscape,” said Mr Phillips.
“Visitors can relax, explore and experience bucket list and Insta-worthy attractions, including the world’s longest zipline, the world’s first Bear Grylls-branded accommodation, Suwaidi Pearls Farm and many more.”
Foreign travel plans
Not everyone in the UAE is planning on staycations. According to Skyscanner, many people are planning to go further afield in May, despite the travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
“We’re seeing destination preferences shifts, with travellers in UAE looking to get away to a variety of locations compared to pre-pandemic,” said Ayoub El Mamoun, global travel expert at Skyscanner.
"The top trending destinations for family trips, currently, are Cairo, Amman and Alexandria, whereas couples are looking to go further afield to the Maldives, Mauritius and Santorini.
“Groups are turning their attention to Europe with Ibiza and Malaga top of the rankings.”
Visitors are also expected to travel to Dubai, which is in the top four of global destinations that have seen an increase in demand for the first time since the pandemic started, according to a recent study from Skyscanner..
Only Cancun, Crete and Ibiza saw a bigger rise in interest as holiday destinations since 2019.
Mr El Mamoun said he also expected an increase in in-bound travel in May, which is traditionally the time when people visit Dubai one last time before the hot summer weather arrives.
There has also been an increase in the typical length of break people are hoping to take, he said.
“Globally we are seeing travellers take longer than average trips during 2021, 16 days up from 14 days last year and the year before, with the biggest increase in trips over 21 days,” he said.
“This would indicate travellers are after that one big getaway, replacing shorter trips and city breaks.”