PICS: Thermometers in hand, Dubai opens for tourists amid pandemic

From French soccer jerseys to slick online campaigns, Dubai is trumpeting the fact that it reopened for tourism on Tuesday, but what that means for this sheikhdom that relies on the dollars, pounds, rupees and yuan spent by travellers remains in question.

With travel uncertain and the coronavirus still striking nations Dubai relies on for tourists, this city-state wants to begin coaxing people back to its beaches and its cavernous shopping malls. By instilling the idea that Dubai is safe, authorities likely hope to fuel interest in the sheikhdom ahead of its crucial winter months for tourism.

But all that depends on controlling a virus that the United Arab Emirates as a whole continues to fight. Armed with thermometers, mandatory face masks and hand sanitiser, Dubai is wagering it is ready.

The front desk staff wearing masks due to the coronavirus pandemic help customers at the Rove City Centre Hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Picture: AP Photo/Jon Gambrell.

“I think that will give people confidence — when they’re ready to travel — to come to Dubai,” said Paul Bridger, the corporate director for operations at Dubai-based Rove Hotels. “It will take time to come back. We are expecting to be one of the first markets to be back because of the confidence that we can give to people that are travelling.”

That Dubai is a tourist destination at all is largely thanks to its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who used the state-owned long-haul carrier Emirates to put this one-time pearling post on the map. Attractions like the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and the sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab luxury hotel draw transit passengers out of Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel.

A front desk employee wearing a mask due to the coronavirus pandemic works on his computer at the Rove City Centre Hotel in Dubai. Picture: AP Photo/Jon Gambrell.

In 2019 alone, Dubai welcomed 16.7 million international guests, up from 15.9 million the year before, according to the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. The top seven tourist-sending nations were India, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Oman, China, Russia and the US. The city’s 741 hotels saw around 75 percent occupancy for the year, with visitors staying on average 3½ days.

Those travellers also fuel Dubai’s vast restaurant, bar and nightlife scene. 

But even before the pandemic, lower global energy prices, a 30 percent drop in the city’s real estate market value and trade war fears have led employers to shed staff. 

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