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Dubai Reopens to International Visitors

The UAE’s biggest city wants to show the world that it is a global tourist destination again

The Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab skyscrapers have company again high above the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai as international flights began arriving Tuesday for the first time since Dubai’s two major airports closed on March 26 as part of strict measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Nicknamed the City of Gold, Dubai is gambling that allowing an influx of foreign visitors will build confidence in the Arabian city as a tourist destination again, according to Robert Mogielnicki, resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“Reopening its doors to tourists early and stressing strict public health protocols is part of a strategy to emphasize Dubai’s credentials as a global tourism hub,” Mogielnicki told The Media Line.

Passengers arriving from London, Beirut and other places are required to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test 96 hours before their flight and show a negative COVID-19 certificate upon arrival, according to guidelines from the Dubai Media Office.

If visitors arrive without the certificate, they will have to take a PCR test at the airport and self-isolate until receiving the results.

Visitors must also carry valid health insurance to enter the country and fill out a health declaration form before departure, handed out by the airlines.

Other requirements for incoming visitors include downloading and registering the UAE’s coronavirus tracking app and undergoing a thermal screening at the airport.

The UAE Health Ministry on Tuesday reported 532 new cases, bringing the total number of infections in the country of 9 million to 52,600. There were also 993 new recoveries reported. Total recoveries stand at 41,714. There have been 326 coronavirus-related deaths reported overall.

“The protocols are necessary but cumbersome – especially for a destination that has worked very hard to create a seamless tourist experience,” Mogielnicki said.

In 2019, Dubai welcomed 16.7 million international visitors, according to the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. The city was hoping for 20 million visitors this year. Tourism accounts for 11.5% of Dubai’s gross domestic product.

“After months of closure, any international visitors at all will provide a much-needed economic boost to Dubai’s hospitality sector. But it will be a drop in the bucket compared to the revenue initially forecast for 2020 before COVID-19 forced the postponement of Dubai’s much-touted Expo 2020. Dubai had initially forecast 25 million visits to the Expo over six months, 14 million of those international visitors,” Emily Hawthorne, Stratfor Middle East and North Africa Analyst, told The Media Line.

There is a lot of investment in the tourism industry and the lockdown has cost many people significant monetary losses like everywhere in the world. The question of a trade-off between health and economy is not an either-or. There must be a balance

Hawthorne lived and worked in Dubai from 2014 to 2015 as a regional director for a small media company.

“There is a lot of investment in the tourism industry and the lockdown has cost many people significant monetary losses like everywhere in the world,” University of Dubai business professor, Dr. Yehia Kamel, told The Media Line. “The question of a trade-off between health and economy is not an either-or. There must be a balance.”

Dubai is one of the UAE’s seven emirates starting to relax coronavirus restrictions.

Etihad Airways, the UAE’s second-largest airline after Emirates, announced on Tuesday that it plans to fly to 58 destinations worldwide from its Abu Dhabi hub with the aim to operate at approximately 45% of pre-coronavirus capacity by August. Emirates has resumed services to 51 destinations while government-owned budget airline Flydubai is flying to 24 destinations, increasing the number of destinations to 66 this summer.

Kamel gave a firsthand account to The Media Line as a resident of Dubai about how the authorities, in his view, are effectively managing coronavirus safety protocols.

“I spent a few days in a hotel a couple of weeks ago and have started to move around after the lockdown. Social distancing is strictly observed in hotels, beaches, malls and almost everywhere. The government imposes hefty fines if not wearing masks in closed places or not observing social distancing, and people are more responsible as well,” Kamel said. “I actually feel safer here than in my home in the [United] States right now.”