09 July 2020
Dubai announced this week it has reopened for tourism. But it remains unclear how many foreign visitors will return as many nations still struggle to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The city-state in the United Arab Emirates depends heavily on tourists to spend dollars and pounds to support its economy.
Dubai officials are seeking to bring visitors back to the area's beaches and modern shopping centers. They hope to create interest now that could keep tourists coming through the important winter season.
The government has promised measures aimed at keeping tourists safe. Industry workers will be armed with thermometers, face coverings and hand sanitizer.
"I think that will give people confidence— when they're ready to travel — to come to Dubai," said Paul Bridger. He is the director of operations at Dubai-based Rove Hotels. "It will take time to come back. ... We are expecting to be one of the first markets to be back because of the confidence that we can give to people that are traveling."
Dubai's ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has long sought to recreate the area as a major tourist center. He used the state-owned airline Emirates to bring in foreign visitors, making Dubai International Airport the world's busiest for international travel. The government has backed several major attractions, including the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.
In 2019 alone, Dubai welcomed 16.7 million international guests, up from 15.9 million the year before, says the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. Most tourists come from India, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Oman, China, Russia and the U.S. The city's 741 hotels were about 75 percent full for the year. Most visitors stay between three to four days.
These travelers also support Dubai's large number of restaurants and other nightlife. Unlike neighboring places, alcohol sales are legal in Dubai and remain an important part of the economy.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, lower international energy prices and a 30 percent drop in housing values caused some Dubai employers to lay off workers. The coronavirus then led to more financial losses. So reopening for tourism is important.
However, many countries tourists come from are still struggling to contain the coronavirus, said Rabia Yasmeen, with the market-research firm Euromonitor International.
"It's good for them to go ahead and announce because there needs to be a call for the confidence to come back," Yasmeen said. "Someone has to take that step first to show the world."
Dubai has begun taking those steps. French football club Olympique Lyonnais wore shirts saying "Dubai Is Open." The team is supported by Emirates.
Dubai is also preparing to hold a world's fair next year. The event, first planned as Expo 2020, was delayed until 2021 because of the spread of the coronavirus.
But risks remain for Dubai as the virus continues to spread in other countries. Emirates stopped flying to Pakistan over virus fears. Across the seven sheikhdoms that form the United Arab Emirates, there have been 52,600 confirmed cases of the virus. There have been at least 326 deaths.
At Rove Hotels, thermometer-carrying workers check the temperature of everyone coming inside. Cleaners spread disinfectants and repeatedly clean tables and chairs. The hotel group, like others in Dubai, has also sought independent approval for its cleaning systems to show that the methods are even better than government requirements.
Visitors who do come to Dubai will be under new rules. In order to travel, tourists must take a COVID-19 test within 96 hours of their flight. They must show the airline results of the test. Without that proof, visitors will be tested upon arrival.
Even though Dubai has declared itself prepared to reopen for tourists, Yasmeen said the current situation brings a very big question to mind: "Is the traveler ready to come to Dubai?"
I'm Susan Shand.
The Associate Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.
Words in This Story
tourism - n. the activity of visiting places for pleasure
sheikhdom - n. an area that is ruled by a sheik
shopping - n. the activity of buying things for pleasure
thermometer - n. an object which takes the body temperature of a human being
sanitizer - n. a liquid that kills germs
confidence - n. the ability to be certain and sure
attraction - n. an building or place that tourists like to visit
disinfectant - n. a liquid or spray that kills germs on objects