UAE residents opt for staycations amid COVID-19 crisis

Hotels in the United Arab Emirates are one by one reopening across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, with numerous money-saving staycation options.

al-monitor An undated image of the Waldorf Astoria in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE.  Photo by Waldof Astoria.

Topics covered

lockdown, tourism, covid-19, hotels, coronavirus, tourists, staycation, abu dhabi

Jul 13, 2020

Summers for many in the Gulf states are usually a time for travel to cooler climates. With temperatures reaching as high as 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) and the school year ending, many people leave the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and return in time for the new school year. But with the latest UAE government travel announcement for citizens and residents, many people are opting to stay put.

After months of low occupancy and closed doors, many hotels are carefully curating relaxing getaways for guests who want a staycation but are hesitant due to fears about the coronavirus pandemic.

Dubai, the commercial capital of the UAE, has seen a rise in staycations.

Olivier Louis, managing director of the One and Only Royal Mirage and the One and Only Palm, told Al-Monitor, “Although the recent few months have been interesting, we are pleasantly surprised with the number of guests who come to our properties. We have two properties in Dubai that we have kept open the entire time. On our Palm property, there are four villas with pools and 10 suites with pools, so those are very popular and over the weekends we have reached up to 70% occupancy. These are mostly families with children.”

Louis said one of the biggest rises has been in room service, noting, “We are up 200% as many people are choosing to dine in their rooms.”

He added, “The Palm location is a boutique hotel, so we are small; we only have 90 rooms and four two-bedroom beach front villas. So it’s contained. We have a 5-star environment with international standards. The first few hours we notice that guests are nervous but quickly they start to relax; everything is sanitized. Even our menus are simplified and step by step within a couple of days they feel more relaxed. These are mostly returning customers. We are lucky also to have a private beach at one of our properties that is 1 kilometer [0.6 miles] long. I must say local and expat families who could not go out and opted not to travel this summer have liked this option, and it has worked well."

Zeina Khayat, a Lebanese mom of five, told Al-Monitor, "[For the last 20 years] we have always traveled in the summer. When COVID-19 happened, we could not travel and also I did not want to. My first staycation was at the Waldorf Astoria in Ras Al Khaimah.”

Ras Al Khaimah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE, is a 45-minute drive from Dubai Airport. Khayat said, “The drive was lovely, and we got to see all the camels and sand dunes — something I never saw in 20 years. We chose to get out of town and head to Ras Al Khaimah as the beach is open and spread out, and we had a balcony with a sea view. Just seeing the sunset every day changed my mood and made me appreciate how important nature is. It grounded me and gave me my positive energy after weeks. Even though it was hot outside we did not feel the heat,” Khayat said.

Alessandro Redaelli, managing director of the Waldorf Astoria, told Al-Monitor, “We never closed the hotel. Obviously April was very quiet, but we had a mix of customers who could not return to their home countries; some guests have stayed three months. They were so happy to stay, and even though they could travel they wanted to stay longer.”

During the height of the pandemic, the UAE had one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world. After the rules were lifted many people took advantage of a much-needed getaway.

“We had a lot of residents in the UAE coming [on the] weekend. Over the last four to five weeks we have had an increase in people staying; weekends are very busy and weekdays are also quite busy. The regulations have changed; we are still not allowed to operate at 100%, but we also want to keep it limited and more containable for health and safety reasons as our guests’ well-being is most important. We want to keep occupancy at a lower level to maintain quality over quantity.” Redaelli said.

He added, “I think that the domestic market [UAE residents] until two to three weeks ago was hoping to return to their home countries like they do every year, but then they decided to stay in the UAE and opt for a staycation. They do not want to risk traveling abroad and not being able to return to the UAE.”

The Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai, never completely closed during the pandemic either. The hotel, which is the first Mandarin Oriental resort to open in the Gulf, is fully functioning, offering many staycation options and many daycation options. “Of course, we always did well with the local business, but now with the pools open we are seeing more demand for day passes. With regard to dining, our restaurants have been extremely busy since the opening,” Ashraf Amaani, director of marketing communication at the Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah, told Al-Monitor.

“Following the guidelines of the local authorities, we are using social distancing measures with 2 meters [6.5 feet] between tables. It has reduced the capacity of the restaurants, but it has not limited it too much. For example, our popular brunch restaurant is booked for the next two weeks. This is a big deal because usually during summer months in Dubai it’s very quiet. Usually people travel for weeks or months. Unlike other parts of the world, Dubai has slowly opened up. We have not had many challenges; everyone is abiding by the rules and people are very respectful,” Amaani added.

For Abu Dhabi residents, one of the region’s favorites is the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, which is part of the Marriott International group. The hotel is located on an island on the exclusive Saadiyat Beach enclave, which sits on the Arabian Gulf. 

The lockdown in Abu Dhabi took effect June 2, and residents are only allowed to travel within the emirate. Only vehicles transporting goods, mail carriers and specific government workers are exempted from the travel restrictions. Police checkpoints have been set up on the borders.

Anyone not based in Abu Dhabi is still prohibited from entering unless they have a negative coronavirus test result that is valid for 48 hours only. Twitter posts stated the rule would remain in place until further notice and until the conclusion of the National Disinfection Program.

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