MERS fails to hinder UAE's tourism industry
Travel to the UAE will not be affected at the moment by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS-CoV, industry experts said.
“At this stage, no, I don’t think travel to the UAE will be affected by the virus. It has not reached the stage of too much concern,” said Christopher Hewett, senior consultant at TRI Hospitality Consulting.
However, Hewett said that “there is potential for it to spread” based on travel trends between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Saudi Arabia is among the top source markets for Dubai’s tourism industry.
The virus, first detected in Saudi Arabia last year, has infected 81 people and killed 45 worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). While the majority of cases have been in Saudi Arabia, one case has also been reported in the UAE. An 82-year-old Emirati man has been diagnosed with the virus and is being treated in an Abu Dhabi hospital.
The virus may not be a concern for some travellers to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but if it “gets out of hand”, it will “have an effect on people for whom travel is discretionary,” said Guy Wilkinson, managing partner at Viability Management Consultants, a hospitality consultancy.
“People travel for business, visiting friends and family and religious reasons. Business visitors will have to go and will not change their plans. People going for umrah and hajj tend to plan ahead, so they will not change their plans. But people with the flexibility to go or not to go may be put off by [the virus],” Wilkinson said.
The UAE Ministry of Health (MoH) has reassured residents in the country that MERS-CoV is not currently a public health concern for those travelling to the kingdom to take part in umrah.
In a step towards preventing the spread of the virus during the pilgrimage season, the Saudi Arabia Health Ministry announced on Saturday that it will not issue Haj visas this year for the elderly and people suffering from chronic diseases. Also, pilgrims are strongly advised to wear masks in crowded places.
The UAE is the 31st most popular tourism destination in the world and the most popular in the Arab world in terms of tourism receipts, according to data by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).