Eid Al Adha holidays: UAE travellers home in on Georgia and Armenia for breaks - but Western Europe is proving difficult

Dubai: UAE residents are flying out to Georgia, Armenia and Serbia during the upcoming six-day Eid break, with these countries taking full advantage of travellers’ need to have quarantine-free stays. Some of the tour packages to these destinations are sold out, according to travel industry sources, with the offered rates being another major pull.

In recent days, interestingly, two African destinations – Zanzibar and Kenya - too have shot up in prominence as Eid and summer getaway spots for UAE travellers. But travel plans for Western European destinations will still need some time to get going, industry sources say, despite airlines offering summer rebates and more.

The UAE has declared that the Eid Al Adha and Arafat day holidays for ministries and federal entities will be from July 19 to July 22. Plus with the weekend added on, airlines are hopeful that a sizeable number of UAE residents will be heading for their first proper summer break since 2019.

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Fares hold steady

A flight to Tbilisi, Georgia, will cost Dh1,025 to Dh1,362. Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is cheaper with fares starting from just Dh844. In comparison, a flight to the island destination of Maldives can cost as much as Dh2,920. Vienna (Austria) and Frankfurt in Germany cost between Dh1,000 to Dh2,000 for Economy.

Western Europe is a slow starter

The Eid week is also a litmus test for some of the ‘travel corridors’ set up by UAE with a growing list of countries. “A few have started - like Switzerland, Germany, and Austria - but the visa part is still a challenge,” said a spokesperson for Dubai-based Uranus Travel & Tours. Travel within Europe has become difficult for even UK and US passport holders, who are being stopped at some borders, said the spokesperson.

Turkey restrictions

It’s not just Europe that is proving to be an incredibly difficult destination to access. Closer home, Turkey has added an extra layer of bureaucratic requirements for travellers to Istanbul. Only those with a valid Schengen, UK or US visa can directly apply for an e-visa online. Others have to give their information over a phone call to just book a visa appointment.

“Appointment dates currently are available only post Eid, so late July or August,” said a travel agent. (An Istanbul flight will cost at least Dh1,400, based on current patterns.)

Top destinations

Dubai (DXB) is retaining its position as the world's busiest international airport, which could prove a much-needed boost for the local hospitality sector. That along with sufficient demand generated for the various staycation packages could see hotels and resorts in Dubai end July in positive territory. (Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) is the second busiest airport, while Frankfurt moved into third place, according to the consultancy OAG.)

In terms of flight frequency, Riyadh (123 flights per week), Beirut (66), and Amman (60) were the top routes from Dubai. Delhi also found a place on the list with 57 flights, even though flights from India to UAE are currently under suspension, according to Flightradar24. Abu Dhabi’s top routes included Cairo, Dhaka and London.

Under threat

A major reason for countries’ inability to roll back restrictions is the fast spreading ‘Delta’ variant, which has threatened to upend all the progress made by airlines so far. Emirates airline was planning to reach 90 per cent of its pre-pandemic network by end July. The current COVID-19 situation will prove to be a serious hurdle to short-term goals.

Two of UAE’s largest aviation markets – India and the UK – are more or less closed with only limited flights in place. India is UAE's largest source market and represents about a third of its passenger traffic. (In 2019, there were about 3.42 million Indians living in UAE.)

The UK's insistence on retaining flights from the UAE on its ‘red list’ is not helping airlines either. The UAE has one of the best vaccination rollout programmes anywhere in the world, which has ensured its airlines – and fliers – have received instant access to a growing number of European destinations. But the UK remains the sole stumbling block, with the red-listing forcing all fliers from the UAE to go through mandatory quarantine once they arrive in the UK.

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