x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Bookings expected to increase

After a slow summer, travel agents are hoping business will pick up for the coming Eid al Adha break.

Things are starting to turn around for the tourism sector and hopes are high for the Eid and National Day holidays.
Things are starting to turn around for the tourism sector and hopes are high for the Eid and National Day holidays.

After a slow summer, travel agents are hoping business will pick up for the coming Eid al Adha break. The industry was hit this year by the global downturn and fears of swine flu, but things are starting to turn around and hopes are high for the Eid and National Day holidays, which begin on November 26 and end on December 3.

"It's looking a lot better," said Premjit Bangara, the travel manager at Sharaf Travel in Dubai. "I can see signs of growth coming up again." Prices of travel packages, which are on average between 5 per cent and 10 per cent cheaper, were helping that growth, Mr Bangara said. "That is drawing the business. It's a bit of a last-minute market here but we are seeing a positive sign that there have been a lot of forward bookings, especially into Oman, Sri Lanka and Jordan," he said.

Bangkok was also a popular destination for the Eid break because it was relatively inexpensive, Mr Bangara added. He said uncertainty about the exact dates for Eid had limited the number of bookings, but now "we will see a lot more momentum". But Mr Bangara said he did not expect business to be as strong as it was last year. "Last year was a good year for us in terms of business," he said. "We were hitting the tail end of a good cycle so there was a lot of business coming through."

UAE residents' outbound travel increased by 20 per cent last summer compared with the summer before, the Sharjah National Travel and Tourist Agency (SNTTA) said. "Eid bookings are picking up and people are looking to use the combination of Eid and the National Day [December 2] holidays to have a getaway," said John Felix, the senior vice president at Emirates Holidays. "Interest levels are high. People who did not travel during the summer are also looking to use this opportunity to take a break."

Mr Felix said business was starting to normalise but prices still had to be competitive to attract customers, and Emirates had launched a range of promotions to several destinations. It is offering, for example, four nights in Sri Lanka from Dh2,520 per person, and a four night stay for the price of three in Shanghai from Dh3,910, with the offers including flights and accommodation. The latest YouGov travel tracker survey, conducted two months ago, showed that UAE residents had become more optimistic and were starting to plan long-haul leisure trips again for the next 12 months as confidence in the economy returned.

Forty-six per cent of respondents said they would travel for business and 35 per cent for leisure. In January this year, a similar YouGov survey showed only 24 per cent of the respondents were planning to travel for business and 19 per cent for leisure. "We had seen a downturn in travel volumes previously but people are now more optimistic about travel," said Jane Wilson, the director of travel and tourism research at YouGov. "In the previous quarter we saw travel behaviour had not changed that much, but now people are planning to splash out again and resume what they have been putting off. People are more confident spending on luxury vacations."

A shift away from business-class travel was set to continue, YouGov said, with 72 per cent of leisure travellers saying they would continue to fly economy, while more business travellers were flying premium economy. @Email:rbundhun@thenational.ae