Coronavirus: UAE, Saudi Arabia turn to staycations for Eid al-Adha as tourism hit

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UAE and Saudi Arabian residents are turning to staycations to celebrate Eid al-Adha amid ongoing coronavirus restrictions that have hit the travel and tourism industry, according to industry insiders.

The Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha begins on Friday and would normally be marked by religious and social gatherings to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God.

Read more: Coronavirus: All the COVID-19 guidelines for the Eid al-Adha holiday across the Gulf

Citizens and residents of Middle Eastern countries usually take advantage of the public holiday, which can stretch up to a week in countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, to travel abroad or enjoy local getaways.

the limestone hills of Al Qarah in Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Ministry of Tourism)
the limestone hills of Al Qarah in Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Ministry of Tourism)

This year, however, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced many residents to change their plans – and hit the travel and tourism as a result.

“There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the travel and tourism industry due to the stringent travel restrictions in place across the globe as well as a slump in demand among travelers,” said Muzzammil Ahussain, the Executive Vice President of Consumer Travel of the Saudi Arabian-based Seera Group.

However, residents of both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have instead turned to holidays within their countries, known as “staycations,” according to travel agents. Residents who choose to stay within their own country will have to follow the precautionary measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

With the Eid al-Adha holiday set to begin on Friday, July 31, here is all you need to know about travel and tourism within the UAE and Saudi Arabia during Eid al-Adha.

Children play at a swimming pool in the Atlantis The Palm hotel, as the Emirates reopen to tourism amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai. (Reuters)
Children play at a swimming pool in the Atlantis The Palm hotel, as the Emirates reopen to tourism amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai. (Reuters)

Tourism and hospitality in Saudi Arabia during Eid al-Adha

To avoid large public gatherings, Saudia Arabia has announced that Eid prayers will only be performed in mosques approved by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and not in open spaces. The Ministry of Health has urged people to practice social distancing during Eid activities and to wear face masks when in public. Gatherings of more than 50 people are also prohibited.

International flights to and from the Kingdom are restricted, with a date for resumption yet to be set, while domestic flights resumed in June 2020.

In light of these measures, a study conducted by Almosafer revealed a growing interest in domestic tourism and staycations, with 35 percent of Saudi nationals choosing staycations as a preferred travel option. Having stayed at home for months due to quarantine regulations, many residents are eager to explore new destinations.

As the Eid holiday approaches, Almosafer, Seera Group’s flagship consumer travel brand, “is utilizing its integrated omnichannel platform and deep understanding of the local market to curate tailored domestic packages that will showcase the country’s breadth of offer,” said Muzzammil Ahussain, the Executive Vice President of Consumer Travel of Seera Group.

In response to concerns voiced by their customers, the travel brand has also chosen to offer travel advice and regular updates to ensure safety.

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Tourism and hospitality in the UAE during Eid al-Adha

Every year, the UAE prepares for an influx of visitors during Eid holidays, as festivals, concerts, fireworks, and more take place across the country.

This year, however, Eid preparations are noticeably different. Despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions in the country, and the resumption of international flights to and from the UAE, authorities at Dubai Tourism have issued guidelines outlining the necessary conditions and prohibitions regarding performances and events, to limit large gatherings.

The UAE government also announced that Eid al-Adha prayers must take place at home, animal sacrifices must be ordered online, and individuals are encouraged to offer their charitable gifts and donations through virtual means.

Nevertheless, the travel and hospitality industry has noticed a growing interest in domestic tourism and staycations during the summer and Eid al-Adha period, say travel agents.

Jebel Jais mountain in Ras al-Khaimah. (File photo: Reuters)
Jebel Jais mountain in Ras al-Khaimah. (File photo: Reuters)

Petra Weidl from Travel Counsellors, a Dubai-based travel agency, told Al Arabiya English that the shift in travel preferences comes as teleworking, travel restrictions, the closure of schools and prolonged periods at home have resulted in an accumulation of annual leave for many employees, and a desire for families to explore safe getaway options.

Weidl also noted that many hotels, particularly those offering Eid packages, are fully booked for the Eid holiday. As travelers save on flight expenses, this has allowed them to spend more on high-end hotels and special services such as private beach access or private pools, options they may not have considered in the past.

To ensure customer safety, hotels are implementing additional health and safety measures, such as the installation of thermal detectors, mandatory wearing of masks by staff, and special room cleaning and disinfection procedures. Chris Newman, the Chief Operating Officer of Emaar Hospitality Group announced their partnership with Kings College Hospital and Boecker, to ensure the provision of quality healthcare and sanitation protocols.

The UAE government has also launched multiple campaigns and initiatives, such as the “Rediscover Abu Dhabi” campaign, the Go Certification Programme, and Dubai Assured to ensure that tourist attractions and hotels maintain the highest health and safety standards, and to enhance the tourism experience within the country.

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