Tuesday, July 23, 2024

UAE’s early-bird sports fans make a beeline to Europe for Euro2024 finals, Olympics amid Schengen visa delays

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Dubai: UAE travellers, unable to secure appointments for Europe’s Schengen visa applications after weeks and months of waiting, are choosing visa-free destinations like Mauritius and Thailand for their summer holidays instead of cancelling their travel plans altogether.

According to travel agents, Turkey and Malaysia are also popular choices. The UK, which has relatively shorter wait times for appointment slots, is a popular choice.

Moreover, Mike Ferguson, director of destination marketing at Skyscanner, said most trending Q2 and Q3 travel destinations are in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, with Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan benefitting.

Early-bird sports fans make the cut

However, early bird UAE’s football fans are travelling en masse to Germany to soak up the action of the UEFA European Football Championship, Meerah Ketait, Head of Retail and Leisure UAE at dnata Travel, has said. The German National Tourism Board (GNTB) anticipates over three million additional international overnight stays as football fans flock to Germany to attend the matches and explore the country.

Visitors from the GCC region spent 1,297,256 room nights in Germany during 2023, a 15 per cent increase over the 1,128,341 overnight stays recorded in 2022. Germany ranks the GCC region in the top three incoming markets, behind the US and China, according to official GNTB figures.

Travellers who have trips to Germany this summer planned their travels months in advance, anticipating the visa delays. “These travellers planned their trips months in advance. Some of the forward bookings for Europe, especially Germany, came in as early as March- April and January in some cases,” according to Rashid Abbas, Managing Director of Arooha Travels. “Delays for Schengen visa slots have been a persisting issue since 2021. Many travellers are well-prepared nowadays. They do not wait for the last-minute to book their appointment slots,” he said. 

Some are also planning trips to Paris, France, for the upcoming Summer Olympics 2024, scheduled to begin on July 26. Travellers can secure their Schengen visas up to six months before their travel date.

VFS Global, the official documentation agency for Schengen visas in the UAE, has attributed the high demand for visas to pressure on available appointments.

“In some cases, residents have also postponed their European trips to mid to late August. By then, the fares would also stabilise,” said Afi Ahmed, Chairman of Smart Travels.

Visa-free for some travellers

Most travellers who waited until May-June to book appointment slots for their Schengen visas have yet to make the cut. “As a result, many have also changed their holiday itineraries to visa-free countries,” Abbas said.

That said, the UK remains a top choice for many residents, significantly since UAE and European carriers have increased capacities to UK airports, making fares to Britain relatively affordable, he explained. Airfares to London from Dubai and Abu Dhabi are averaging Dh 1,330 (with a single layover) and Dh2,360 (direct flights) on British Airways.

Holidays in neighbouring havens

Travellers planning last-minute breaks seek to spend their summer holidays in ‘neighbouring havens’ such as Abha in Saudi Arabia and Salalah in Oman. Airfares to Saudi Arabia, which average Dh800 to Dh1,300, and fares to Muscat, which average Dh770 to Dh1,065, make these popular last-minute choices for those seeking to escape the scorching heat.

“It is also worth noting that SalamAir will resume its non-stop Fujairah to Salalah flights, with two weekly services, from July 3 to August 31 for the Khareef 2024 season,” said Raheesh Babu, COO of Musafir.com.

No slowdown in demand

Despite soaring airfares and visa hassles, UAE residents’ appetite for travel is not slowing down. According to dnata Travel, the UAE saw a 35 percent increase in bookings for international travel in July and August 2024 compared to the same period last year.

International trips are on the agenda for this popular summer travel time, dominating a 90 per cent majority of overall bookings this year.

Rikant Pittie, Co-Founder of EaseMyTrip, said, “Another trend that we have observed is that there has been an increase in flight bookings during the holidays in 2024 compared to 2023 in the UAE. Our site has seen an uptick in organic searches during the break by an average of 25 per cent. This indicates the high anticipation and eagerness to leverage the holiday season for travel via flights.”

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