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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

A flying visit: how stopover cities have thrived in an age when even the jet set need a break

As the UAE looks to offer day visit visas to many nationalities for the first time, we look at countries that have boomed thanks to stopovers

People wait in line at the passport control area in Terminal 1 arrivals section at the Dubai International airport. Randi Sokoloff / The National
People wait in line at the passport control area in Terminal 1 arrivals section at the Dubai International airport. Randi Sokoloff / The National

One of the benefits of a stopover is that it is said to be like having two flights for one ticket. For passengers on Icelandic Air, back in the 1950s, this was literally the case.

The airline had one licence to fly to North America and another that allowed it to fly to Europe. For an airline with designs on the lucrative and fast growing north Atlantic route this was a problem.

The solution would turn a tiny island in the middle of the ocean into an international destination and create the concept of a stopover as major source of tourist cash.

Around two million people now visit Iceland every year, in a country with a population of less than 350,000. Tourism accounts for one third of its export revenue, and employs one in 12 of the workforce.

Iceland’s lessons have not been lost on the rest of the world, with national airlines offering a chance to visit their home countries to passengers who might otherwise only see the inside of a transit terminal.

Dubai has long been a stopover hub, but its new plan to offer day visas to nationalities that would previously had to apply well in advance could bring a renewed tourism boom.

Singapore, Portugal, Turkey and Canada have actively developed stopover programmes with their airlines. Etihad Airlines has done the same for Abu Dhabi – with the only restriction until now being the restriction to passengers entitled to a visa on entry.

With the announcement yesterday that stopovers will be available to all nationalities, the UAE will be able to fully benefit from its potential.

Andrea Bailey, from Dubai's Travel Counsellors, agreed the new plan would boost tourism.

"With the hype around Dubai Expo 2020 that's happening at the moment we have a lot of inbound tourism, which I believe last year we saw record numbers, even in the summer time, and making use of the deals that run throughout the summer,” she said.

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Read more:

UAE Cabinet approves day visas at airports to boost tourism numbers

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"This is definitely going to help for those who are transiting and using Emirates [and Etihad] anyway as a stop, just to give them the incentive to go out there and get a feel for Dubai and maybe plan to come back and see it again. It will give them a great preview of the city."

“It’s definitely going to have a high impact on travel and tourism in the UAE,” said Manoj Balakrishnan, the marketing manager of Bin Moosa Travel, an Abu Dhabi travel agency.

Many passengers from India to the US through the UAE were currently deterred from staying over for a few days because of the high visa fees, he said.

“So my question is, what is the fee going to be? We will prepare some packages when the full news is out.”

About 70.5million passengers streamed through the sparkling halls of Dubai's main airport last year. The rapid growth puts Dubai airport ahead of London Heathrow for the first time as the world's busiest international airport. Kamran Jebrelli / AP Photo
Rather than waiting for a connecting flight in the airport, the government hopes passengers that would not have qualified for a visa on arrival before will take the opportunity to spend a few hours or a night seeing the UAE. Kamran Jebrelli / AP

Priorities for Indian visitors would first be to see relatives living in the UAE but also taking the chance to see attractions like the Dubai Frame or Burj Khalifa.

“Before people couldn’t experience this because of the visa issue,’ he said.

Three years ago, Singapore added US$15 million into its tourism budget, with an emphasis on stopover tourism. As a result, the country’s earnings from tourism had risen by nearly 14 per cent, to US$20 billion in 2017.

A study of the benefits from stopover tourism commission by Finland in 2015 noted that tourism as a per cent of GDP in Finland was half that of Iceland and less than a third of Singapore.

“Finland has much to learn from these countries, in particular how the local ecosystem works together and how the airline feeds business to local travel service providers,” it noted.