A second wave of coronavirus infections threatens to fuel a tourism boom in Dubai that has rescued its ravaged economy, even as its hospitality industry expects visitors can continue to come with too few places available globally.
After registering regular infections in the UAE, Dubai, one of the few destinations open to foreign travellers since July, has yet to enforce the toughest restrictions in the expectation that vaccines can avert a repeat of last year’s lockdown.
But hotel chain RIU saw a “significant slowdown” in January bookings in Dubai after a surge of tourists during December, after some countries tightened entry restrictions for those travelling from the UAE, said Oliver Kluth, SVP Sales & Business Growth Indian Ocean.
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Since the United Kingdom and Israel requested to quarantine anyone entering from the Gulf State, British and Israeli visitors largely vanished from the city’s sandy beaches.
Denmark, and then Britain, suspended UAE flights.
The move came when daily infections multiplied over the past month to reach a staggering 3,966 in the UAE on January 28, which is now fighting its worst epidemic since the onset of the pandemic.
For each emirate, the Gulf state does not offer a breakdown, but some doctors told Reuters that Dubai’s private hospitals were accepting ill patients for the first time in months.
Dubai has further limited capability at restaurants and social events and outlawed live entertainment, along with obligatory mask-wearing in public and social distancing.
It also restricted the capacity of hotels and shopping malls and reinstated a provision to take a test for all new travellers to show they are virus-free.
‘I can live again’
Some bar and restaurant owners said the number of guests started to taper off in early January, but that could be related to the conclusion of the peak winter travel season rather than the increasing frequency of infections.
And Dubai’s sandy beaches, desert camps, clubs and restaurants are already being hit by visitors and locals ahead of the hot and humid season.
Reuters talked to ten tourists in Dubai from the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Belarus, Turkey and Egypt, all of whom said they felt reasonably secure.
In Paris, everything is locked. We have to head home at 6pm, but there’s no curfew here. So it’s fun to enjoy coffee, restaurants and entertainment,’ said Paris insurance broker Khaled Kadi, 37.
For the next few months, Anna, a 35-year-old Italian who just left Dubai for London, has returned to work remotely, sharing time with her partner, who lives in the Emirates.
I feel like I should live again because we were in a lockdown when I was in London for two months, like a very tight lockdown. So we can scarcely go out there,’ she added.
And with few destinations accessible to foreign travellers, Dubai is hopeful that bars and clubs will remain popular.
Nikki Beach Resort & Spa Dubai General Manager Hanna Azzi said, “Most European tourists come here and they want to escape the lockdown, they want a bit of a normal life.”
“No other place to go,” said Charlie Weaving, managing partner of LIVIT Hospitality, which runs the famous Cove Beach Club in Dubai.
But if more nations cancel UAE airlines, Dubai will suffer a big blow as it prepares to host the postponed Expo 2020 World Fair.
The government media office in Dubai did not answer questions about its plan to combat the latest coronavirus wave.
The economic recovery of the Emirate will be ‘placed on ice’ if the number of cases continues to escalate and stricter steps are put in place, said Middle East economist James Swanston of Capital Economics.