ABU DHABI // UAE residents rushed to make holiday plans yesterday after the Government announced that schools would be closed for a 10-day stretch during the Eid al Adha and National Day celebrations.
The Ministry of Education announced late on Tuesday that with the two celebrations falling only days apart, state and private schools would be closed on November 26 and reopen on December 6. National Day will be held on December 2 while Eid is expected to fall on November 27, according to WAM, the country's official news service. The announcement yesterday was attributed to the Islamic Crescent Observation Project, a scientific group of astronomers. The group has already said the first day of Islam's haj month begins on November 18, so it predicted that Eid would begin the following Friday.
The country's Islamic authorities have not confirmed these dates. The official moon sighting committee is to meet on November 17 before announcing the official start of the Haj month. The budget airline flydubai, which reported a surge in calls since the announcement, has arranged extra flights to holiday destinations - with Beirut among the most popular - during the holiday period. Hotels have also launched a series of special promotions in a bid to woo potential visitors.
Some of the nation's top tourist attractions were bracing themselves for an influx of visitors, with a series of concerts, firework displays and stage performances planned. "All our routes are showing an increase in bookings for Eid," said a flydubai spokeswoman. "And we advise people to book early if they want to take advantage of the best deals." Juliete Petro, a manager at the online travel agency Netholidays, said Eid was traditionally a busy period. With the holiday falling so close to the National Day celebrations, the firm was expecting a rush of enquiries.
"We already have a large number of bookings for this period," she said. "News about the long holiday is just starting to get out, so as more people learn of the plans, we would expect to see an increase in the number of inquiries." Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates said it expected rocketing visitor numbers, but would not make predictions as to how many, while the adjacent Kempinski Hotel is already fully booked for the holiday period.
In Abu Dhabi, Klaus Niefer, the deputy general manager of Le Méridien Abu Dhabi, said that as the capital was primarily a business tourism destination rather than a leisure venue, hotel occupancies were likely to dip. The hotel has launched a number of special offers to try to compensate. "We have already received a large number of leisure business bookings from Europe and the Middle East region and we would expect this to increase in the coming weeks ahead of the holidays," he said.
Moritz Klein, the general manager of the Abu Dhabi Beach Rotana, said the capital was becoming an increasingly popular holiday venue, but a last-minute one, with many people deciding to book about a week before they depart. "We have lowered our prices during the holiday period by Dh200 (US$54) as part of our strategy to attract more people from the leisure market," he said. Children would normally have returned to school mid-break on December 4, but will not this year because it falls on a Friday.
Paul Coackley, the head teacher at the British School in Abu Dhabi, said he did not believe the long break would disrupt children's educational progress. But the news was not welcomed by sections of the business community, who said the break was too long. Gary Whabi, one of the founders of the Indian Business Group, said: "Business people are absent, and it is increasingly difficult to get anything done.
"We need to follow a model more in line with Europe and the West, where they take fewer days off for public holidays." The Islamic Crescent Observation Project has for years supported a closer collaboration between muftis and astronomers in determining the Islamic calendar, so as to protect tradition without flouting science. Mohammed Odeh, an astronomer and president of the project, said that the UAE had plans to set up an official centre for new moon sightings.
"We travelled with the official delegation to Japan to look at various models of telescopes," he said. * Additional reporting by Anealla Safdar and Rasha Elass