Eid holidays in UAE: Empty roads, crowded malls as residents rush for last-minute shopping

Hotels across the country witnessed a huge surge in occupancy numbers with the announcement of the long break


Nasreen Abdulla

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Women look at shoes at market during shopping ahead of the upcoming festival of Eid Al Fitr. Photo: AFP
Women look at shoes at market during shopping ahead of the upcoming festival of Eid Al Fitr. Photo: AFP

Published: Sun 7 Apr 2024, 6:37 PM

Last updated: Sun 7 Apr 2024, 8:34 PM

It was almost a tale of two cities on the roads of Dubai on Sunday morning. While many thoroughfares wore a deserted look, the shopping districts and malls were bustling as UAE residents kickstarted their Eid Al Fitr holidays. During the last weekend before Eid, many hotels reported almost full occupancies and airports were busy.

Mohammed Anshah's weekly drive to the Karama fruits and vegetables market on Sunday morning was more hassle-free than usual. “The roads were practically empty, and it took me only 15 minutes to drive from Jumeirah to Karama," he said.

Empty Dubai roads
Empty Dubai roads

However, when he got to the market, the scene was different. “The fruits and vegetables stalls were moderately busy,” Anshah said. “But the meat section was packed. I had to wait for almost an hour even to place my order. The shopkeeper said they had already begun facing the heavy Eid rush.”

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Busy shopping areas

For Dubai resident Shahina M, a quick visit to Dubai’s Meena Bazaar district turned out to be a very long ordeal. “I thought it would be empty in the morning, and I could get my Eid shopping done quickly, but I think every other person in Dubai thought the same. It was jam-packed; getting a parking spot was almost out of the question. I got stuck in traffic for almost an hour before I abandoned the mission and came home.”

Meena Bazaar traffic
Meena Bazaar traffic

In Sharjah, the scenes were similar. Dubai resident Hina Javed, who went shopping at 'abaya street' on Saturday evening, said driving to the busy centre was a nightmare. “I wanted to pick up some abayas for my daughter and niece. However, it was almost impossible to find parking. Eventually, my husband dropped me off there to finish my shopping."


Dubai Airport expects a surge in passengers, with an estimated 3.6 million guests likely to travel through the airport from April 2-15. Sunday, April 7, is expected to be the busiest day, with the total number of guests around 292,000.

Ajman resident Parveen Becker has been planning her Eid trip well in advance to beat the rush. “I am travelling to South Korea and got my currencies sorted a week ago,” she said. “It is not particularly easy to get the currency here, so I approached a reputed exchange house on April 1. I got the required amount of South Korean won the next day. I knew waiting too long would be problematic as everything would close down for the Eid holidays.”

With her travel date on April 11, Parveen is planning to leave Ajman at least five hours before her scheduled flight. “We have received recommendations from our travel agent that the airport is going to be incredibly busy,” she said. “Factoring in some traffic, we want to ensure we get to the airport early enough for a smooth check-in.”


Hotels across the country are seeing a huge surge in occupancy numbers with the announcement of the long break. “Leading up to Eid, there was already a noticeable uptick in bookings as guests anticipated the holiday period,” said Vesselin Galov, Hotel Manager, Al Wathba, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa. “The announcement of the 9-day holiday enhanced this trend, driving even more business during Eid.”

Many hotels are reporting upwards of 90% occupancy rates. This trend was evident all across the UAE. “Following the outstanding occupancy rates seen during Eid Al Fitr in 2023, we are confident that this year will see the same level of success, if not more,” said Raki Phillips, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).

According to him, the wide variety of activities on offer in RAK was further driving up demand. “From Jebel Jais offering a range of mountain activities such as Jais Flight (the world's longest zip-line) and Bear Grylls Explorers Camp, to cultural exploration at Suwaidi Pearls – the UAE’s only Arabian pearl farm, thrilling desert off-roading, quad biking, hot air ballooning, aerobatic flights – and so much more – the destination is the perfect place to do something different this Eid.”


The long holiday period also brought with it its own set of challenges. For Ninu Hyder, it was almost impossible to find a doctor when her 5-year-old needed to be seen immediately. “My son was playing with a toy and it hit his eye,” she said. “After that, he refused to open his eyes. So, I needed to see an ophthalmologist, but all the regular doctors I consulted earlier were unavailable. The earliest appointment I could get was later this week. That wouldn’t work for me because I am travelling on Tuesday.”

She eventually found someone in a clinic in a mall. “I was desperate, so I booked an appointment for the only doctor I could find working today,” she said. “Thankfully, she was good with my son. He has a scratch on his cornea and needs to have eye drops for a week.”


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