What it's like to visit Dubai as a tourist during Covid-19

CNN

29th September, 2020 05:20:19 printer

What it's like to visit Dubai as a tourist during Covid-19

There aren't many countries currently welcoming almost all global tourists, but as its cooler months arrive and it moves into what would normally be peak season, Dubai is one of them.

The emirate's sandy beaches, luxurious resorts and extensive theme parks are an inviting travel prospect, particularly for Northern Hemisphere travelers who, having been stuck at home during their summer, are now staring into the tunnel of a bleak winter of Covid-19.

But what can visitors to the UAE expect when they get there? Will they get a relaxing break from stresses at home, or is life in Dubai severely restricted?

The UAE has suffered its own Covid-19 surges, peaking in May and again in mid-September, but has a relatively low incidence rate compared to most urban centers.

It initiated a swift lockdown early on and, after adopting virus prevention measures, Dubai's resorts have re-opened as swiftly -- and safely -- as guidelines and evolving regulations allowed.

And this means visitors must also embrace safety checks and protocols.

Having had to wear a mask on board their airplane, arrivals will need to do the same in every public place in Dubai or face a 3,000 dirham ($817) fine.

This includes taxis, currently allowing just two passengers unless it's a minivan hailed via airport ground staff or the Careem app, and on Dubai Metro; sterilized and running as usual but with distancing mandatory.

As residents we've experienced the city's precautionary measures first-hand. And while those masks can prove irritating in the UAE heat, it's good to know you're in a country with a relatively low infection rate, in part, because of them.

The mask rule extends to Dubai's theme parks, such as IMG Worlds of Adventure, where rules apply on two-meter social distancing and keeping every other seat empty, except when ocrcupied by family members.
Visitors should get used to the smell of sanitizer. Dispensers are everywhere and everyone is expected to use them.

That goes for resorts where guests will find a revised experience, but one still wrapped in a warm welcome, even if the smiles are obscured by... you guessed it.

Thanks largely to early, comparatively strict, movement directives, sterilizing procedures and group gathering limits implemented by UAE authorities, Dubai is back to something approaching normality.

It feels safe, if sometimes surreal, but it doesn't take long to absorb this "new normal" into vacation routines; that's including buying masks, which are inexpensive and available in every pharmacy.

Hotels follow -- and in some cases go beyond -- mandated procedures that can appear odd or excessive at first, depending on what guests are used to.

Many resorts reawakened with attractive staycation and pool day deals to entice domestic guests. With many international travelers now able to make the trip, they too can expect temperature gun or thermal body scanner checks on arrival at hotels, restaurants, malls and even gyms, carried out by masked staff usually brandishing sanitizer in rubber-gloved hands.

Perspex panels shield resort check-in desk staff and, in some cases, luggage is spray-sanitized on entry. Others, like The Address Downtown, operate a walk-through sanitizer tunnel.

Poolside, guests can expect plastic-sealed towels while lifeguards police social distancing and deter overcrowding and the mingling of strangers.

Less visibly, but equally reassuring, guest rooms are subject to additional cleansing, with non-vital paper items removed.

Dining too has undergone an overhaul. Many restaurants have ditched physical menus for QR codes that access online versions -- which is alright so long as customers have mobile data or there's decent Wi-Fi.
Disposable or wipe-clean menus work just fine, where available.

Arguably Dubai's most iconic hospitality address, Atlantis, The Palm has gone a step further, offering free "in resort" Covid-19 PCR tests for international bookings of five nights or more until December 18.

All passengers returning from Dubai to the UK, Europe and other mandated destinations are currently required to take a test no more than 96 hours before departure, presenting a printed pass certificate at check-in.

Timothy Kelly, Atlantis Dubai's executive vice president and managing director, says the resort's initiative is designed to reduce "travel inconveniences and encourage more international guests to visit... as we strive to implement innovative ways to serve them in a socially responsible way."

He also says it "aligns itself with Emirates Airlines' free medical cover for Covid-19-related expenses, designed to boost people's confidence to travel during the pandemic."

Having completed a $100 million refurbishment program and reported 90% average occupancy in 2019, next year is scheduled to see the opening of the new adjacent resort Atlantis, The Royal.

"Of course, this has been an extremely challenging time, but we must move forward and adapt our product offering and experiences to ensure our resident market wants to spend time in resort and that we're making it easy, but more importantly safe, for our international market," says Kelly.

There are tough times ahead, he acknowledges, but he insists the resorts can weather the storm.
"The next couple of quarters are going to be challenging, but there is nothing for it but to prepare, adapt and persevere."


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