Millionaire to Billionaire from the globe head to UAE as tourist hotspot opens its doors to world

From footballers, actors to influencers are in Dubai currently due to Europe lockdown

Fireworks explode from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Dubai ©Reuters

Soccer stars, actors and television personalities from Cristiano Ronaldo to Maya Jama were among those who enjoyed the holiday period in Dubai, working and playing in the Gulf tourist hotspot as Europe suffers under a strict coronavirus lockdown.

As 2021 began with barely a pop elsewhere, the airport in the United Arab Emirates’ trade hub has been rammed as British, French and Russian tourists flooded into what has recently become the world’s most open city, where visitors can enjoy restaurants, bars and even socially distanced raves.

After a tough lockdown, the city started opening up its economy gradually in May. With the UAE rolling out a fast vaccination programme, bookings for the city’s hotels are buoyant and a moribund property market is resurgent.

“Dubai has taken away impediments — people see somewhere relatively safe and so they are prepared to travel,” said Simon Casson, president of hotel operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa at the Four Seasons group. “There are few hotels in the world today that are enjoying the levels of demand that Four Seasons Dubai is.”

Since November, occupancy and rates at its two Dubai hotels had been increasing, reaching more than 90 per cent at the beach location in December, from lows in single digits during the summer, he said. In the first week of December, occupancy across Dubai reached 66 per cent, according to data provider STR.

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Dubai, harder hit then the UAE’s richer capital Abu Dhabi, has adopted easier entry requirements to boost tourism. Dubai requires some visitors to present negative Covid-19 tests at check-in and to take another on arrival, though Britons and Germans, like other Gulf nationals, only need to take a PCR test at Dubai airport.

A more infectious new virus variant is present in the UAE and cases have surged since the new year. The authorities have so far only reminded people to adhere to social-distancing protocols.

The two-month revival in tourism, which together with the real estate sector accounts for about a third of the economy, is one part of a story about the emirate’s resurgence since many of the foreigners it relies on left due to the pandemic. As much as 10 per cent of the 10m population, the vast majority of whom are expatriates, fled the country, western officials estimate.

Since then the UAE, which has had about 700 reported deaths from coronavirus, has led the way with its vaccination drive. Dubai this month rolled out its BioNTech/Pfizer vaccination programme, which aims to inoculate 70 per cent of the population in 2021, building on the UAE campaign using China’s Sinopharm jab. The UAE is now second only to Israel in the global vaccination race, at 9 doses per 100 people, and plans to surpass its newfound ally.

“It’s the only place I know where you can really live your normal life — they’ve got it all figured out — there are masks everywhere,” said John, a banker from New York, who has just moved his family to Dubai.

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