x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Asia now destination of choice

UAE holidaymakers increasingly head to Far East and South Asia as they scrap regional travel plans for the summer.

Holidaymakers are scrapping summer breaks in the Middle East in favour of the Asia this year, travel agents say.

South East Asia, including destinations such as Malaysia and Thailand, is already a favourite among tourists from the UAE.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, has rapidly grown in popularity after the civil war ended two years ago.

"There is always a high density travelling to these popular destinations in any case but this year I see - because of the unrest in the Middle East region, especially Egypt, Tunisia and Syria now - you find the focus moving rapidly towards places like Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and Thailand," said Premjit Bangara, the travel manager at Sharaf Travel in Dubai.

Mr Bangara said about 8 per cent of the company's total leisure bookings for the season would normally be for regional destinations recently affected by unrest.

"If people are looking to go to the Middle-Eastern countries and then they can't because of the unrest, then the next step would be to go to the Far East, or more likely these days it is Sri Lanka," said Sheldon Emmanuel, at Al Tayer Holidays in Dubai.

"Sri Lanka … is one of the must-see places for GCC travellers. It's just booming."

Thailand is hoping for further growth in visitor numbers from the UAE and the wider region this summer. Last year, 140,000 visitors from the UAE went there, a 28 per cent rise on 2009.

"For some who were planning to travel to these areas [in the Middle East] they may have decided to make other holiday plans for this year," said Pramoth Supyen, the Tourism Authority of Thailand director for the Middle East.

"Given the value offered by Thailand holidays, its relative proximity to the region and ease of access … we expect Thailand to be well positioned to tempt such travellers, should they be looking for an alternative holiday destination for this summer."

Mr Emmanuel said south and South East Asia were always popular choices for a summer break, partly because expats, including Arabs and Indians, found it relatively easy to secure visas.

"People love to go to the Far East because it's good value for money, excellent services and good products," he said.

The Singapore Tourism Board said it was also likely to benefit.

"There will be some interest in arrivals because of the regional unrest," said Jason Ong, the board's director for the Middle East and Africa.