By Lt Col (Retd) Khalid Taimur Akram
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has severely damaged the tourism industry across the globe. Many countries that are dependent upon the tourism economy were adversely affected by its catastrophic impacts. According to world estimates, the potential shock has caused approximately a 60-80% decline in international tourism during the period of the pandemic. UAE tourism also bored the brunt of the sharp decline of economic and tourist activities in the UAE. The IMF’s assessment of the real GDP of UAE revealed that the economy of the country has contracted by 3.5% after the outbreak of the Coronavirus. However, despite a grim outlook for the global tourism industry amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, UAE is making every effort to beat predictions of a dangerous decline. The UAE is getting back to normalization and has taken several immediate steps to deal with the growing concerns. The tourism industry and hospitality sector in UAE is reviving and benefitting from a rebound driven by a multi-pronged approach adopted and executed by the authorities.
Even though the United Arab Emirates isan oil-producing economy, the tourism industry has established itself as a major amplifier of economic divergence. The tourism industry is the major growth and revenue-generating sector for the entire UAE economy and it has been projected that the travel and tourism industry will contribute about 312.4 billion United Arab Emirati dirham to the UAE’s GDP by the year 2027. Dubai is the top tourism destination in the Middle East and is the fifth most popular tourist destination in the world. Dubai holds up to 66% share of the UAE’s tourism economy, with Abu Dhabi having 16% and Sharjah 10%. To support its growth in the sector the UAE has been spending billions of dollars on infrastructural development and has managed to develop the most advanced infrastructure in the region so far. The collective spending of the United Arab Emirates government on the tourism industry is much higher in ranks than the rest of the world.
Post COVID- 19 Revival of Tourism
As UAE is always prepared to evolve in the face of global challenges, the Emirates are deeming to galvanize their growth and development particularly in the tourism sector, and also maximize the available opportunities once the tourism industry will be fully reopened and embarked on its way to the final stage of its recovery. Despite the tourism industry is facing the worst challenge in modern history due to COVID-19, the UAE can evolve and adopt new strategies to make it a success story.
Along with the implementation of health and safety standards, the UAE tourism department has developed an active and prudent international marketing strategy that involves close coordination with more than 3,000 partners worldwide to drive tourist bookings. A series of digital campaigns were among notable global marketing activities launched to ensure that the emirates must continue to stay the top most favorable tourist destinations. Dubai for instance has launched high impact digital campaigns – two campaigns before its reopening and one campaign have been launched after the city reopened for the international tourists. Dubai Tourism has recently partnered with Google, Microsoft, and Snapchat in marketing projects to attract potential tourists, collaborating in virtual reality experiences that give prospective travelers a preview of the city via mobile device and computer.
The efforts made by the UAE authorities are resulting in UAE becoming one of the most sought-after destinations among tourists looking to travel again after the pandemic. According to a survey by global travel company Kuoni, Dubai is the most searched travel destination for 2021. During another survey by the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, GDCI in 2019, Dubai was ranked among the world’s top five most visited cities in the world and has been on the list for five consecutive years.
Health and Safety
Dubai’s commitment to maintaining the highest standards of hygiene and safety in line with international best practices received a strong endorsement from the World Travel and Tourism Council, WTTC, which gave the city a ‘Safe Travels’ stamp in recognition of the stringent measures taken to combat COVID-19.This improved reputation in the global market and the enhanced reputation of Dubai as one of the safest destinations in the world are key drivers of the increasing momentum for recovery. The UAE has also invested in spreading its message through social media, deploying over 350 influencers to highlight Dubai in 14 different languages. Hotels across the city have offered deals and packages for stay. The current situation has provided a huge opportunity to drive demand for domestic tourism. The UAE authorities are firm to transform their challenges into opportunities to maintain its position at the forefront of the world’s leading tourist destinations.
Hospitality and Airline Industries
The UAE’s hospitality industry is open for business and showing strong signs of recovery after the crippling economic impact of Covid-19. The online room reservations by the international tourists has reached to its highest. According to the recent statistics, the online registration for room booking in Dubai has doubled as compared to the previous month.Apart from the hospitality sector, the airline industry is also a crucial part of the UAE’S tourism industry. International airline bookings are also showing positive signs for the tourism sector. Emirates and Flydubai are facilitating tourism growth in UAE through a wide range of measures designed to instill confidence among travelers and encourage them to make the emirates their destination of choice. Emirates will be operating to a total of 70 destinations across six continents in August, while flydubai is set to expand its network to 66 destinations over the summer.
Besides the standard precautionary measures of social distancing and wearing of masks at all times by guests and employees, Dubai hotels have deployed enhanced disinfection measures across all their facilities, including the fitting of equipment for contactless screening of guests at entrances. Dubai also implemented technologically-integrated advanced safety control measures to avoid any chances of the spread of the novel virus.
How the Tourism can fully Revive
Although UAE has reopened its doors for international tourist the emirates has expressed their commitment to follow certain codes of conduct to ensure the health and safety of the travelers. A wide range of air travel protocols for visitors has further boosted the confidence of tourists. All travelers, including tourists, residents, and citizens arriving in or transiting through the UAE, must follow the following steps;
- Passengers must get themselves tested for COVID-19 four days before their travel to the Emirates. They are also expected to sign a deceleration form that they will fully cooperate with the authorities if they contracted the novel virus. All tourists are advised to have travel insurance and they all must download the COVID-19 UAE app. This app is a Ministry of Health’s Official App on Coronavirus management. It provides all the necessary information regarding the real statistics of the pandemic worldwide and within the United Arab Emirates. The app also provides a self-awareness kit and information about COVID-19 Symptoms, how you can prevent yourself from it and what treatments can be adopted to reduce the risk and offer health services and support to the patients.
- Upon arrival in UAE, travelers’ have to show their test results or carry out a re-test if required. The test will also be repeated for the tourist who exhibits COVID symptoms. Those who test positive must quarantine for 14 days. Travelers will be asked to quarantine in hotels, at homes, or in the hospitals depending on their choice. The cost of the treatment and isolation must be bored by the tourist.
- All UAE hotels are advised to follow strict safety measures. Guests must wear face masks all the time except when in the pool, eating, or exercising. Restaurants have introduced contactless menus and serve diners who will serve you meal while following the safety guidelines as prescribed by the WHO.
- The public transports including metros, taxis, and buses in UAE are also back and running. The tourists are allowed to use them for traveling purposes however, they must follow social distancing. Cash transactions must be avoided and passengers must use apps to make payments. Passengers can also book their ride directly through CAREEM APP. the fare will be automatically deducted from passengers’ debit or credit card.
- At the restaurant’s tourists are allowed to remove their masks. Restaurants will serve food in single-use cutlery and plates. Restaurants are strictly ordered to place tables 2 meters apart to ensure social distancing. Buffets are open but the food will be served by the staff. Sharing food or touching utensils is forbidden.
- All tourist attractions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are now open but with strict guidelines. Water parks are open with 50% capacity. All guests are staff have to undergo thermal check, wear gloves, and face masks all the time. Rides, slides, showers, and locker rooms are also open. Sanitization of all these places is being carried out from time to time to ensure safety and health.
- The Author is an Executive Director at Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad