Abu Dhabi won't be rushed into re-opening to tourists amid coronavirus threat

Senior tourism exec says UAE capital will not be pressured into any decision as health and safety comes first

Abu Dhabi will not be rushed to reopen its doors to international visitors, according to a senior tourism official.

Abu Dhabi will not be rushed to reopen its doors to international visitors, according to a senior tourism official.

Saeed Al Saeed, marketing director at the emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism, insisted the UAE capital will not be pressured into any decision and stressed that the health and safety of residents, citizens and visitors will remain paramount.

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Dubai has welcomed back tourists since the start of July, following the enforced coronavirus lockdown measures.

Al Saeed told Arabian Business: “For us it’s always going to be the conversation on how to open up tourism in a safe manner. But the decision is not going to be with the Department of Culture and Tourism. We are just a small component of a very big umbrella that needs to make that call.

“But I am optimistic. I’m extremely optimistic. Whether it’s the vaccine coming into play soon enough or we come up with, collectively, a process that works for everybody, that is still not compromising on health and safety.”

Abu Dhabi has been recognised globally for its approach to hosting the UFC’s Fight Island as well as the current Return to Fight Island on the emirate’s Yas Island, where a safety ‘bubble’ has been created in order to protect athletes, their entourages, officials, staff and media for the duration of their stay.

Al Saeed revealed that more than 18,000 tests were carried out on 2,000 people in a matter of a month for Fight Island 1, while the current event will see more than 20,000 Covid-19 tests.

However, while that has been a huge success, Al Saeed said such a move would not be considered when welcoming tourists back to the UAE capital.

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He said: “I think the focus is going to be more about how do we welcome tourists back into Abu Dhabi, more than it is how do we create more bubbles because, yes bubbles are good because you can kind of control the situation when it comes to Covid-19, but at the end of the day you’re not expanding the entire destination narrative into it and you’re not allowing people to really come and enjoy Abu Dhabi as a tourist.”

It was revealed this week by STR that hotel occupancy range in Abu Dhabi for the week ending September 20 was 60 percent, the highest in the GCC region, while forward occupancy for the90 days from September 21 was standing at 17 percent, slightly higher than neighbouring Dubai and above global cities including Riyadh, Zurich, Paris, London, Sydney and Madrid.

Al Saeed said: “We are ready and we’ve been welcoming visitors from across the land border, but for us as well, nobody knows how this virus is mutating; nobody knows a perfect solution and the answers to all things Covid-19 related. For us to say that this process is guaranteed and fool proof, is not a position we want to put ourselves in.

“What are the incubation periods? Is a test 96 hours before good enough? What happens when they land and get a test, does that mean they are actually negative? All of these things are really question marks that the global community, not just Abu Dhabi, doesn’t really have the right answers to yet and, like I said, health and safety are the priority and we’re not going to compromise on that. We’re not going to jump the gun too soon when it comes to opening up.

“There are a lot of destinations out there right now that are reeling back and going back into partial lockdowns or full lockdowns because they prioritised other aspects of their directional decision-making over health and safety. We have not had to do that.”

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