Yachts as far as the eye can be seen on the edge of Dubai’s Marina and with the return of tourists, getaways aboard these luxury white boats on artificial lakes in the Gulf emirate are booming in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wide open to tourists since July 2020, the emirate city attracts visitors with its restaurants and beaches but also its yachts, at a time when social distancing remains de rigueur.
Since the beginning of the health crisis, Nada Naïm has gone out to sea four times. “It’s more intimate, you’re only with your family and friends,” says the 36-year-old Saudi woman who lives in Dubai.
“It feels like you can breathe. It’s like you’ve traveled,” adds Nada, who hasn’t left Dubai since February 2020.
With a horizon of endless skyscrapers and artificial islands, yachts are allowed to operate at 70 per cent of their capacity. Rental companies have seen increased interest in this activity.
“When the lockdown measures were eased and the situation returned to normal, people preferred something safe and secure with regulations, staying with family and friends,” Mohammed al-Sayed, director of a charter company, Royal Star Yachts, told AFP.
Residents and tourists alike dream of “cruises”, of “relaxing”, assures the professional who has been working in the yacht industry for eight years.
These excursions are not cheap: it takes up to 18,000 dirhams (about 4,000 euros) for three hours on a 42-meter boat, the cost being usually shared by the passengers on board.
Known for its gigantic towers and luxury display, Dubai has the most diversified economy in the Gulf, a region heavily dependent on oil. The financial, commercial and airport center has also developed its tourism sector, with some 16 million visitors per year before the pandemic.
While the country is among the fastest to have launched its vaccination campaign, the influx of visitors since the beginning of the year has allowed many commercial activities to return to their pre-health crisis levels.
“I have seen an increase in demand for boat rentals since March 2021, as some restrictions were still in place in private hotels and beaches,” another official of a yacht rental company told AFP.
“We were allowed at that time to operate at 50 percent of our capacity, and customers were very happy to come to have fun with friends and listen to music,” he says.
At the same time, other services, such as the delivery of food products to the middle of the ocean, are also on the rise.
“Getting on a boat is like being on the terrace while being away from the world, with only those you trust,” Jilan Herz, a Palestinian woman who has lived for more than 30 years in the United Arab Emirates, a federal state made up of seven emirates, told AFP.
“It’s also something you can enjoy safely with the kids, go in the middle of the ocean, participate in water activities and take a good dip,” she adds.
But restrictive measures, such as the wearing of masks or minimum reception capacities remain in principle in place. Some groups have been arrested by the authorities for breaking the rules and have been fined heavy fines.
Dubai has been a popular destination for sports stars, such as footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba or mixed martial arts (MMA) star Conor McGregor. The emirate has also attracted a horde of influencers.
Photos of celebrities on the page or in cocktail bars have flooded social media in recent months, while many wealthy tourists escaping lockdowns around the world have taken up temporary residence in Dubai.