Serbia and Bosnia top UAE travellers’ summer holiday picks, with Istanbul a close third

Postcard perfect Belgrade will have offer compelling reasons to be on the top list of cities that UAE residents plan to travel to in coming weeks. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: This summer, UAE residents are more likely to take a vacation in Eastern Europe, with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina topping their choices, while Turkey, Georgia and Armenia are the other clear favourites. But there is still time for Western European cities such as Rome and Barcelona to join in, as quarantine measures are rolled back systematically.

“The visa process is simple and lot of flight options are also available [to popular East European destinations],” said Subair Valappil from Regal Tours, an Abu Dhabi-based travel agency.

Serbia is among the countries that UAE has set up a travel corridor with, which means passengers no longer need to quarantine on arrival. Airlines and tourism players are hoping for a repeat of what happened with UK in November last year, when the relaxation of travel restrictions led to London-Dubai bookings going from being 80 per cent down (compared to pre-COVID-19 levels) to registering a 10 per cent growth – all in a few weeks.

The UAE has also signed similar agreements with Italy, Greece and Seychelles. However, interest for EU countries remains muted, despite the ease of travel. But UAE airlines such as Emirates have just come up with special rates to Western Europe… and to US cities.

“Only Greece is open – so people are not applying much as they cannot go to other Schengen countries with that visa,” said Valappil. Italy is open “only for business now – it will open for tourism by next month.”

Demand for UAE-Bahrain has taken a dive since Saudi Arabia opened its borders. “Earlier, everyone in UAE was using it as hub to go to Saudi Arabia,” said Valapil.

Even though the initial response is lukewarm, UAE’s aviation industry participants are confident that the quarantine-free corridors will stimulate demand and play a part in pulling the airlines and tourism sectors out of their current crisis.

Emirates asaid vaccinated passengers can fly to 19 destinations without having to quarantine on arrival. Dubai’s flagship airline added that it will operate over 280 weekly flights to Europe, US, Middle East, Africa, and other popular island getaways from July.

“More countries are taking steps towards opening their borders for travel and tourism to and from the UAE, as vaccination programmes advance and protocols for safe travel are implemented,” said the airline. “Emirates will continue to ramp up as demand returns and support the jump-start of tourism across its network as more travel corridors open, benefitting travellers with quarantine-free travel at both ends of their journey.”

What do fares look like?

A one-way Economy ticket from Dubai to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, costs around Dh1,368 on flydubai and Dh1,667 on Emirates. Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo can cost a little over Dh1,500.

For those looking for a closer destination, Istanbul may be the perfect spot. Fares are on the lower side, with flydubai offering seats for Dh916 and Turkish Airlines for Dh976.

Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, can cost anywhere between Dh1,000 to Dh1,500. Flight tickets from Dubai to Athens also fall in the same range.

Problems remain

Some market experts do not believe the corridor agreements will have much of an effect on air travel demand. “The problem is that India is still closed and a number of destinations in Southeast Asia, like Australia, are closed to outsiders – the UK too,” said George Ferguson, an aviation analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

“Travel between Europe and the Emirates will help but it isn’t much. The airlines in the region are really connector type airlines (similar to Singapore), which really hurt given the pandemic,” said Ferguson.

“Lack of a domestic market to fall back on is a challenge, and with the varying border crossing requirements and closed markets, demand for connector airline travel will be weak well into 2022.”