Airline travel agencies within the United Arab Emirates are experiencing a sharp increase in the cancellation of bookings as restrictions on passenger flights are imposed by more and more countries.
Between 60% and 80% of passengers have either changed their travel dates or cancelled altogether after fees for data changes were waived by airlines, according to Smart Travel’s managing director Afi Ahmed.
80% of cancellations had been made even before the UAE had issued a travel advisory, according to an Advanced Travel and Tourism executive in Abu Dhabi.
The cancellations were primarily to nations such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The biggest expat group within the UAE, Indian nationals, are starting to avoid bringing their families into the country on visit visas for the school break that is coming up back home, and 90% of leisure and business trips are also being cancelled, Ahmed adds.
Residents have been told by the Ministry of Health and Prevention in the UAE to cut out non-essential travel because of the COVID-19 crisis and the fact that it has spread into many different countries.
Students who travel overseas have also been warned by the Ministry of Education that they will have to be screened and spend 14 days in home quarantine to ensure that they are not infected upon their return to the UAE.
Passengers are also concerned about the possibility of more travel restrictions in the future, particularly in regard to return trips and the countries they are intending to travel to, according to a travel agent who claims that cancellation requests have been flooding in.
The company normally books a number of regional leisure trips for schools during the spring holiday, but many passengers are now trying to get refunds because of the virus, with trips to European nations also affected.
The head of Deira Travels’ Al Quoz branch, Mujeeb Rahman, says that a number of calls regarding cancellations have been received by the agency.
People are afraid that they will be left stranded overseas if the situation worsens even further, Rahman notes.
The loss of business caused by refunds and cancellations is a big problem for the travel and tourism industry, with bulk cancellations also causing worries after the Umrah pilgrimage was cancelled by Saudi Arabia.
The industry is bracing for even more difficult days, and some staff members are being told that they can go on leave if that is what they want, according to Ahmed.
Afsal Shyam, a resident of Dubai, says that he and his four friends have cancelled a family trip to Switzerland and Paris that was supposed to begin on 22nd March.
Indian expat A. Ragesh has a similar story – he cancelled his family’s trip to Turkey, which was set for later this week, after the advisory was issued.
Anyone who is considering travelling to or from the UAE should make it a priority to take out travel insurance for financial protection against cancelled flights and falling ill overseas.