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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

As Ramadan moves into prime tourist season, Dubai's relaxed licensing rules offer boost for businesses

Authorities allow establishments to serve alcohol and food during the day after success in trials

Hotels and restaurants in Dubai will not serve alcohol on Monday evening and Tuesday during the day. Ryan Carter / The National
Hotels and restaurants in Dubai will not serve alcohol on Monday evening and Tuesday during the day. Ryan Carter / The National

Dubai is to press ahead with a third year of relaxed licensing rules to allow some hotels and restaurants to serve alcohol and food during the day throughout Ramadan.

The city's tourism authority said there is a need to "strike the balance" to ensure residents and tourists are catered for while ensuring there is respect given to those fasting and observing the Holy Month.

The move was first trialled in 2016 with a small number of bars and hotels able to apply for permission to open in daytime.

Last year many more took advantage of the opportunity to their boost business and satisfy customers. Until 2016, bars and restaurants were typically closed until about 7pm.

Dubai Tourism said managers should anticipate the special arrangements being in place from May 16 to June 14.

Issam Kazim, the authority's chief executive, told The National that to date the industry and its customers have been respectful of the arrangement.

“Private sector partners in the industry have been doing their best to make sure we are maintaining the cultural sensitivity aspect, however, also making sure that Dubai still caters to all of these audiences," he said.

“It’s very important for us to strike the balance.

"You don’t want to upset either, and you want to make sure everyone feels at home, comfortable and welcome.”

Mr Kazim told The National he aims to maintain the flow of visitors from traditional source markets in 2018 while ramping up efforts to lure tourists from Russia, the CIS, Latin America and the Nordics. Leslie Pableo for the National
Dubai Tourism chief executive Issam Kazim said the city is carefully striking the balance between commerce and respect for those fasting. Leslie Pableo for The National

Flexible licensing rules have been welcomed by the hospitality industry given Ramadan - which is 10 days earlier every year - moves into the spring and the tourist season.

For those bars that are open, serving food and drinks will be discreet and live entertainment is not allowed.

A hotel in Barsha Heights last week faced a backlash when its public relations company sent out a notice advertising a ‘Dirty Ramadan Brunch’, boasting of unlimited alcohol and pork bacon dishes.

Hoteliers said it is crucial the industry ensures its own operations strike the right tone.

“Although the rules and regulations introduced in 2016 allow hotels to serve alcohol during daylight, it is the sole responsibility of an operator to do so discreetly,” said Mikhaiel Al Mari, assistant food and beverage director at the Fairmont Dubai.

“We have to respect the local customs and ensure that food and beverage items are kept away from the public eye.”

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In 2017 it is estimated that tourism in Dubai contributed more than Dh150bn to GDP, or 4.6 per cent, according to a Knight Frank report.

Tourism provided almost 570,000 jobs in 2017, about 4.8 per cent of total employment, with the sector’s direct contribution to GDP increasing by 138 per cent in a decade.

This trend has been driven by the increasing level of connectivity on offer from Dubai International, the world’s largest airport by international traffic.

It recorded 83.7 million passengers in 2016, up 26 per cent from 2014, increasing in 2017 further to more than 88 million passengers.

In 2020, Ramadan will fall over March and April, a popular period for tourists from Europe who come to the UAE for the spring break and Easter holidays, with hotels already looking ahead to balance Ramadan with one of the busiest times of the year.

“We will have to find the balance between meeting the needs of the peak-season tourists and respecting the local traditions,” Mr Al Mari said.

“There are currently no special events planned for 2020 as such, however, we’ll make sure that all our guests will be well looked after during that important time of the year.

“The relaxation of rules in Dubai has already shown to have a positive effect on the hospitality business.

“And with all the plans Dubai has in the pipeline for 2020; the number of visitors can only continue to grow."

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