Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

Eid Al Fitr holidays: Thousands to beat the heat in Baku, Beirut and Bosnia

From last minute getaways to staycations - and a big boost for traders - the country is on the move

PGN3BA Downtown Beirut in the summertime. Date taken: 3 August 2018. dia karanouh / Alamy Stock Photo
PGN3BA Downtown Beirut in the summertime. Date taken: 3 August 2018. dia karanouh / Alamy Stock Photo

London, Baku, Beirut or Ras Al Khaimah? Thousands are packing their bags and getting ready to fly as the Eid holiday approaches. Others are opting to avoid the Eid rush and settle in closer to home with family or staycations in the Northern Emirates.

Beirut has become popular once again with Emiratis now that a travel ban to Lebanon has been lifted, said Moneb Al Nfouri, operations supervisor at the Dubai travel agency uTravel.

Expats have been free to travel there until now, with caution, but the ban lifting for UAE nationals has been seen as a significant gesture.

“Beirut is popular now for Eid - it’s such a short flight so people can stay there for three or four days," she said.

"The feedback from there is always good, the air ticket is not expense and hotels are not expensive.

"We have been told that now security is much better there than before, all the feedback is very positive and that’s from the travellers themselves.”

PGN3BA Downtown Beirut in the summertime. Date taken: 3 August 2018. dia karanouh / Alamy Stock Photo
Downtown Beirut. The UAE recently lifted a travel ban for Emiratis to Lebanon. Alamy

Baku - with its fascinating East-meets-West architecture - is another hot draw this season, said agents. The capital of Azerbaijan is less than three hours from Dubai

“People are looking for a three or four hour flight and people are always looking for a new destination to explore,” said Ruby Manlangit, travel consultant Premium Choice Travels. Their agency saw clients choose Azerbaijan, followed by Nepal, Thailand and the Balkans in recent days.

Travel website Skyscanner said it experienced an increase in searches and bookings to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sofia in Bulgaria and Kiev in Ukraine.

Spokeswoman Sam Ayles suggested it could be due to Flydubai's partnership with Emirates, which offered codeshare flights to each of these cities since 2017.

A view along Baku's waterfront, with the Flame Towers and TV tower in the distance. Getty Images
Baku is known for its at times fascinating architecture and East-meets-West vibe. Getty Images

“While neighbouring cities are still leading the booking numbers over Eid in terms of exit volume, it’s interesting to see which destinations that are increasing in popularity compared to previous years,” she said.

Despite the growing popularity of staycations, Eid got a boost this year thanks to the government announcement of a five-day public sector holiday.

Sidra Saboor, a resident of RAK, will take advantage of the long break to travel with her husband to Finland. The couple are planning to take advantage of Finland’s 18 hours of daylight and cool weather.

“Number one; it’s really hot here and where I’m from, back home in Karachi, it’s also extremely hot,” said Ms Saboor. “Unlike the UAE, we don’t have central AC. So even my parents and my husband’s parents said, ‘it’s too hot, don’t come here’.”

More than 80,000 passengers are expected to fly out of Terminal 3 with Emirates Airline on Friday, May 31. The carrier's most popular Eid destinations this year are Bangkok, Beirut, London, Amman and the Maldives.

Travellers have been urged to arrive at Dubai Airport at least three hours before their flight.

“Peak travel is expected to continue until Monday, June 3, with more than 309,000 Emirates passengers travelling from Dubai during this period of time,” Emirates said.

Mimar Hayruddin’s Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar was destroyed during the civil war in 1993, but reconstructed in 2004 Getty 
Mostar is one of Bosnia's biggest visitor draws. Its historic bridge was destroyed during the civil war in 1993 and reconstructed in 2004. Getty

“With traffic congestion expected around Terminal 3, and road works continuing to cause traffic delays around main airport highways and roads during this time, Emirates urges customers to build in extra time for their journeys to avoid potential delays.”

Top destinations for Etihad Airways passengers are to Manila, Cairo, Amman, Bangkok and London.

Hoteliers in the UAE were also looking forward to reaping the rewards of Eid tourism and expect a high number of guests from Saudi Arabia.

“Occupancy levels are looking very strong for Eid,” said David Allan, general manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Waterfront, in Business Bay.

“We have a mix of guests on staycation from across the Emirates and other GCC nations.”

For others, Eid is about coming home. Next week, families and neighbours will travel across the Peninsula to visit relatives. One of the most important moments of the year is when families gather together the first morning after Ramadan for breakfast following Eid prayers.

“People travelling for Eid is a new habit and usually people don’t travel, they sit, they come to their families,” said Talal Al Qassimi, a banker from Ras Al Khaimah who lives in Dubai. He plans to be on the road to his family when Eid begins.

“Eid starts from the moment [the moon sighting committee] see the moon. The first joy of Eid is the Eid prayer and from there it’s breakfast," he said.

"The most important thing is breakfast. This is the big ceremony, like khalas, when we’re having breakfast this means Ramadan is over.”

The days before Eid are the busiest of the year for tailors, bakers, barbers and henna artists. For them, travel is out of the question.

“Travel? Never, never,” said Fatima Moinul Haque, whose mother owns the Abeer Beauty & Henna Saloon in Baniyas.

While others have flown to distant locales or driven to relatives in far flung towns, she will help her mother tidy the salon, serving the last customer around 4am and cleaning until 5am.

“Then I will rest. I mean, even the tailors take a rest on the first day of Eid.”

Updated: May 29, 2019 09:52 PM

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