Image by Olga Ozik from Pixabay.jpg

WHILE European travel destinations remain deserted and locked down this winter, how has Dubai managed to attract thousands of visitors including high-profile celebrities?

The answer is testing on arrival. This had a dramatic effect on tourism. 

When Dubai reopened its borders to international travellers in July (2021), it announced that some countries would have to present a negative Covid test at departure while others – including Britons, also Germans – could be tested at Dubai International Airport. Emirates airline offered free testing.

This sent the message that the Dubai was open. Reality stars jetted off for a sun-soaked holiday while the rest of the UK remained in a winter lockdown. 

While the celebrities came under fire at home, Dubai’s tourism sector rebounded strongly. According to data company STR, Dubai saw the highest open hotel occupancy driven by international demand in December. Hotels hadn’t slashed their room rates – some prices went up.

Cities in China and Singapore recorded higher occupancy levels but this was due to domestic travel and hotel quarantining. Dubai saw a 70 per cent occupancy at the end of the year, proving how much pent-up demand there was.

Credit: STR

So what lessons can the UK learn from the Emirates?

STR’s international business managing director Robin Rossmann said success was down to testing.

He said: “All that was required was the ability for people to fly there and travel and stay without quarantining. People are happy to do tests but it’s that quarantining that really kills the ability of the market to recover. With that taken away how quickly it rebounded.”

So far the UK government has not required any traveller to present a negative Covid test on departure or arrival since the pandemic begun until now. From Monday – 18th January – Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has introduced a mandatory pre-departure test. Passengers arriving from all international destinations to England are required to have a negative PCR test, 72 hours before travelling.

To help revive the travel sector, the UK government introduced travel corridors, with a list of safe destinations. Holidaymakers could visit countries such as Spain and Italy and not quarantine on their return. This was vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks in those destinations. When Covid cases rose it resulted in those countries being removed from the “safe list” with short notice causing hundreds to fly back before quarantine was imposed. This then led to refund chaos.

Travel industry leaders were critical of the approach and since last summer they were calling for an end to quarantine and the introduction of testing at airports. Colin Stewart, LATA Chairman, said: “Testing is going to be the solution. It’s about rapid testing, pre-departure, post-departure, let’s get that up and running, let’s build confidence back in the industry and let’s get feeling that we can travel.”

The UK has almost 3.4 million cases of Covid while the UAE has seen a recent spike taking their numbers to 250,000 cases. In response, the UK government has removed Dubai from its “safe travel corridor” list, meaning that from Tuesday those returning to the UK are required to self-isolate for 10 days.

This comes as government scientist Professor John Edmunds said it was likely that the new Brazilian strain of coronavirus was already in the UK.

Also as of 16th January, all travellers to Dubai – including Britons – require a negative PCR test four days (96 hours) before departure.

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