Winter holiday trends: UAE residents pick destinations based on Covid-19 safety

Outdoor, adventure destinations are preferred among UAE nationals and expatriates


Dhanusha Gokulan

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Published: Mon 20 Dec 2021, 9:42 PM

As several mainstream holiday destinations have been forced into lockdown due to the spread of the highly-contagious Omicron variant, travellers from the UAE are choosing ‘safer destinations’ for their upcoming Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays.

Instead of cancelling their travel plans, vacationers from UAE are opting to travel to destinations in Eastern Europe and island nations facing limited Covid-19 restrictions; travel agents told Khaleej Times.

Moreover, thanks to UAE’s high vaccination rates and as the Emirates is on the ‘green list’ for most holiday travel destinations, there have been no major changes in polices effecting travellers from the country.

Instead, travel agents are taking precautionary steps to ensure Emiratis and UAE residents do not get stranded mid-vacations. Residents are avoiding popular winter destinations where Covid-19 cases are high, said Hossam Youssef, founder of Dubai-based travel agency Adrenaline Travels.

He told Khaleej Times, “We are aware of the Omicron threat and we’re seeing several countries going into lockdowns and caution being adopted in some countries. Some have increased safety and some mulling over cancelling entertainment activities over the festive season.”

Youssef said these factors are driving the local demand on destinations.

Nature destinations over cities

The Netherlands entered a strict lockdown on Sunday and France has placed a ban on all non-essential visitors from the UK to ease the spread of the new variant.

“Safety concerns among UAE travellers is high. People want to go to places that is safe. People are choosing nature and outdoor travel spots over cities,” Youssef explained.

Bosnia, Albania, Turkey, Croatia and Finland are becoming popular destinations. “Finland especially has Christmas and nature- related activities on offer. The famous Santa Claus village, for example, is the ultimate destination when it comes to winter. Other popular countries are Georgia and Azerbaijan, as these are affordable for those wishing a short trip over the holidays,” he added.

London continues to be a trending destination for both nationals and expatriates. He explained, “We are surprised at how fast people have adopted to the current travel trends. All travel decisions are being made on the basis of which decisions are safest.”

Island destinations make for a safer bet

Sophia Tamang, the deputy managing director of Adrenaline Travels, added, “Other top-trending destinations at the moment include Kazakhstan and Portugal. The demand to island destinations such as Maldives, Seychelles and Zanzibar is massive. Obviously, these are all destinations where the Omicron threat is not apparent.”

Tamang said the market is flooded with last-minute travel demands. “Christmas is next week, so, we have a lot of clients who are making plans to travel right away and return on the first week of January. Ski destinations are also gaining popularity,” she explained.

The more cautious travellers are planning to head out of the country in January- February based on the Covid-19 situation during that time.

South Asians are avoiding travel home

Mir Wasim Raja, manager Mice at Galadari International Travel Services (ITS), said, “Most South Asians are avoiding travel home at the moment. Instead, a lot of the demand is to destinations such as Georgia, Baku, Armenia for example. Especially since some of these destinations make for are visa-free travel.”

He added, “Given the long weekend following New Year’s Day, people are taking advantage and booking tickets for short-haul travel destinations.”

He said families, couples and groups are choosing packages to these countries.

Rashid Abbas, the managing director of Arooha Travels, said, “Booking during this season is generally very high. Kiev and Azerbijan are popular among South Asian travellers. However, the highest trend is for inbound travellers. A lot of people from all over the world are travelling into the UAE, especially Dubai.”

He added, “Moreover, I feel confidence among vaccinated individuals is very high. Given the high vaccination rate in UAE, people are heading out more confidently.”

Top six things to keep in mind before travelling

  • Check the arrival rules of the country you are are visiting, check if they only require a PCR test or passengers need to be vaccinated
  • Check your vaccine status. Some countries do not accept certain vaccines. Make sure your vaccine is accepted by the final destination
  • Prepare for your travel: Fill out forms, plan for PCR test and all other pre-travel arrangements well in advance
  • Health insurance is a must. Travellers must not head out without taking one
  • Go to the airport early. It is a busy time and travellers must ensure they make it to the airport on time
  • Stay safe during the trip. If you see any signs of flu or fever, immediately test yourself. If you feel symptoms pre-travel, avoid making the trip.

Top winter travel destinations

  • Bosnia
  • Albania
  • Turkey
  • Croatia
  • Finland
  • London
  • Kazakhstan
  • Portugal
  • Maldives
  • Seychelles
  • Zanzibar
  • Armenia
  • Georgia
  • Baku

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