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UAE Tourism Industry Poised for Post-pandemic Rebound
Try cruising some of the world’s biggest sand dunes in the UAE. (Courtesy Orient Tours UAE)

UAE Tourism Industry Poised for Post-pandemic Rebound

With Abraham Accord, Israelis will soon join millions who visit Gulf state

Israelis will be able to join citizens of other countries as tourists in the United Arab Emirates after the details are finalized following Thursday’s historic announcement of the normalization of ties between the two states.

Direct flights to Dubai via Saudi airspace are in the works, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday during a visit to Ben-Gurion Airport.

UAE-based tour operators interviewed by The Media Line say their country has done a good job handling the coronavirus pandemic and is ready to welcome international visitors again.

A record 16.74 million tourists visited Dubai last year, according to its Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. The UAE was expecting an even bigger number this year as the host country for Expo 2020, but the pandemic pushed the opening from October to October 2021.

Dubai Airport reopened to international passengers on July 7, and more than a month later, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigner Affairs in Dubai says there has been a dramatic increase in travelers.

The UAE consists of seven emirates – Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain.

“They’ve done a really good job with the different strategies of the different emirates,” says Nigel David, regional director with the London-based World Travel & Tourism Council, whose responsibilities include the Middle East.

They’ve done a really good job with the different strategies of the different emirates

“For Ras Al Khaimah, there is an increasing focus on adventure tourism, with development in the mountains,” he told The Media Line. “You’ve got Dubai with the focus on shopping, but also the beach and all the attractions that Dubai has. And then you’ve got Abu Dhabi down the road, an hour away, with a focus on culture. You’ve got some great cultural assets there.”

Abu Dhabi’s skyline. (Courtesy Orient Tours UAE)

Last year, according to the council, the travel and tourism sector contributed 11.9% to the UAE’s total economy. It employs more than 745,000 people, with visitors spending 141.1 billion dirhams, or nearly $38.5 million. The largest numbers of tourists came from India, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, China and Oman.

Zeeshan Muhammad, general manager at local tour operator Daytur Dubai, praised the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The government is [undertaking] a lot of initiatives for the safety of the local residents [and] for the people who are coming from outside,” Muhammad told The Media Line.

As of Tuesday, 64,541 people in the UAE had been infected with the coronavirus. Of these, 364 have died and 57,794 have recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker.

Highlights for any first-time visitor are modern Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including the latter’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the world’s tallest building at a height of 829.8 meters (2,722 feet).

The UAE declared independence from Britain in 1971, with six of the seven emirates immediately forming a federation, and Ras Al Khaimah joining the following year.

Daytur’s Muhammad says of Dubai: “In this city, which has been transformed completely from desert to a modernized city, there are many things that people can experience.”

Dubai’s skyline. (Courtesy Orient Tours UAE)

He ticks off some tourist attractions he recommends, including a visit to the Global Village amusement and cultural park, a jeep ride across the desert dunes, a traditional Bedouin dinner under the stars or dinner on a traditional wooden boat, called a dhow.

Take a cruise. (Courtesy Daytur Dubai)

Shan Mehda, executive manager of Sharjah-based Orient Tours UAE, added some of his own choices to the list: the massive Dubai Frame, which has panoramic views of the old and new cities; walks along the banks of the Dubai Creek; and enjoying the world’s longest urban zip line, from the Dubai Marina to the Dubai Marina Mall.

The Dubai Frame (Courtesy Daytur Dubai)

A must for visitors to Dubai, Mehda tells The Media Line, is the world’s tallest observation Ferris wheel, Ain Dubai, which is 210 meters (689 feet) high. It is expected to open in January on the man-made Bluewaters Island.

Mehda and Muhammad both say the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is also a must-see. It is UAE’s biggest mosque, and the third-largest in the world.

Mehda also recommends the mountains of Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah, in the northern part of the country, for outdoor activities such as hiking and biking. Fujairah’s east coast is home to mountains with hidden pools, where visitors can take a dip.

“Everyone from a backpacking tourist to a multi-billionaire with his own private jet can enjoy this destination,” he said.

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