UK visits to Dubai down by almost 70% as coronavirus crisis bites

Airline bookings to Dubai from London in Q4 are currently 74.1% behind year-on-year

Dubai’s tourism industry, like many major cities around the world, has suffered from collapsed consumer demand, flight restrictions and international quarantine measures. Image: Getty Images

Air passenger arrivals to Dubai from London have slumped by 69.1 percent year to date, according to official data sources.

In a blow to the emirate’s tourism market, bookings to Dubai from London in Q4 2020 are currently 74.1 per cent behind year-on-year, travel analytics firm ForwardKeys revealed to Arabian Business.

Dubai’s tourism industry, like many major cities around the world, has suffered from collapsed consumer demand, flight restrictions and international quarantine measures.

Emirates returns over AED 5 billion (US$ 1.4 billion) to customers in COVID-19 related travel refunds and clears 90% of its refunds backlog, making strong and steady progress on its commitment to complete pending refunds.— Emirates Airline (@emirates) September 7, 2020

“It is difficult to predict when normality will return to the previously busy London-Dubai route. The UAE is not currently included in the UK government’s safe travel corridor and, therefore, travellers are expected to quarantine for 14 days on arrival,” said Olivier Ponti, VP of insights at ForwardKeys.

“Travel restrictions in both the UK and UAE, as well as the development of the pandemic, will have a major influence on recovery,” Ponti said.

According to research firm Euromonitor International, the UK is an important source market for Dubai historically, ranking as the third biggest source market to Dubai in 2019.

“While Dubai has opened up to tourists, COVID-19 has severely impacted the UK’s economy,” said Rabia Yasmeen, senior analyst at Euromonitor.

“With Brexit coming up, the increased economic uncertainty in the UK has also impacted the British outbound market to long-haul destinations such as Dubai,” she added.

Euromonitor International forecasts that overall visitor arrivals from the UK to UAE are expected to decline by 69 percent in 2020.

“Brits are more likely to travel domestically to countryside locations or regionally for relaxation. Likewise in the UAE, domestic tourists are currently a key market for local hotels,” Yasmeen told Arabian Business.

Hans-Peter Betz, director of the Dubai-headquartered the International Association of Hotel General Managers, confirmed that hotel occupancy is currently being driven by domestic demand. “Dubai’s hospitality is driven by local demand at this point with weekends doing very well. The percentage of international tourist is still very small,” he said.

Dubai’s state-owned Emirates airline on Monday revealed that is has returned over AED5 billion ($1.4 billion) in Covid-19 related travel refunds to date.

More than 1.4 million refunds requests have been completed since March, representing 90 percent of the airline’s backlog. This includes all requests received from customers around the world up until the end of June, save for a few cases which require further manual review, the airline said in a statement.

Travelling from DXB is as easy and efficient as ever before. Smart Gates are now open for registered passport holders in Terminals 2 and 3 #DXBReady #Above_the_clouds— Dubai International (@DXB) September 5, 2020

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Emirates laid on six daily A380 flights to London’s Heathrow and a further three a day to Gatwick. It had also just begun a double-daily 777-300ER service to Stansted.

As of September 8, a sizeable proportion of its A380 fleet remains grounded – only one A380 flight makes it to Heathrow, as well as several 777-300ERs.

Demand for the London-Dubai air route remains “tempered”, according to Saj Ahmed, founder of UK-based Strategic Aero Research.

“Amid a backdrop of ever-changing quarantine guidance, travellers are wary about making travel plans that could be halted almost without notice,” Ahmed said.

However, he noted that the UAE is far from alone in experiencing severely depleted tourism demand.

“Several major city pairs across the globe, operated by a slew of airlines, have all but collapsed in both demand and access as flight restrictions are in full force,” Ahmed said. “A good example of this is British Airways standing down its entire widebody fleet for services that would have connected New York/JFK several times a day.”

The key to restoring demand relies almost exclusively on the global medical community coming up with a COVID-19 cure or a suppressant, the expert added.

“A return to global pre-COVID travel demand levels, in terms of yield and profitability, could easily be five to ten years away. And that’s a bullish assessment,” he said.

The expert also noted that the increased take up of remote working software such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams would mean that companies now no longer see the benefit of expensive business flights.

“There’s no expensive hotel tabs and you can safely conduct business at home – what’s not to like?” Ahmed said.

“There’s no airport queues, no lost baggage and ability to work 24-7 remotely. For that reason, the airline industry will never be the same again.”

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