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Abu Dhabi tourism rebound ‘towards end of summer’

ABU DHABI, March 4, 2021

The Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak said that Abu Dhabi can be expected to fully reopen to tourists towards the end of summer and normalcy towards the end of the year in an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest.

Speaking on “Quest Means Business” Al Mubarak discussed the UAE’s successful vaccination programme and Abu Dhabi’s ‘Go Safe’ certification to maintain the highest level of safety measures.

“We have to look at the science. The science of the matter is that every single city or every single country is looking for the 70 to 75 percent threshold in vaccinating its populous. I think once countries reach that sort of comfort level, I think the opening up to others will basically be a much more simpler matter,” Al Mubarak added on the possibility of ‘vaccination holidays’ for international travellers.

“Moving forward to the next stage of this is how do we make sure that the tourists flying in from all over the world are safe and have the experiences of a normal world which we have expected in the past? And we take that extremely seriously. At the moment more than 80 percent of the staff that is working within the tourism sector has been vaccinated and close to 100 percent of our staff on our national airline has been vaccinated. This is just one step closer to a tourism world,” he added.

Excerpts from the interview:

Richard Quest, CNN: IATA, the global airline body, says international travel -- traffic, as it's known, plunged 86 percent in January; 86 percent compared to before the pandemic. That's not to say there isn't pent-up demand, you and I have talked about this many times. There was a surge in bookings between the U.K. and the UAE late last year after the countries opened up a travel corridor. That was before the variants were reported and corridors were closed down again. It's something the Emiratis are keen to capitalise on, Abu Dhabi setting the goal of becoming 100 percent certified safe destination. Mohamed Al Mubarak is the chair of Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism. The chairman joins me now. Chairman, the idea -- we know there's pent-up demand and the evidence has been there. But I wonder the reality of trying to open up in very difficult circumstances when, after all, we saw what happened in Dubai just at Christmas.

Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi: You're absolutely right, Mr. Quest. The fact of the matter is people want to travel again, there's pent up demand for that. We just need to make sure that basically it's in the safest manner. Here in Abu Dhabi, from day one, we took the safety measures extremely seriously, not just for the tourists coming in but also for the residents here in the UAE. We made sure that all our tourism sites whether it's hospitality or entertainment or our cultural sites are really at the highest level of safety measures. So we created a program called the ‘Go Safe’ program which basically means rigorous testing, testing for all staff members at least once a week, making all the safety measures within the assets themselves from cleansing, from touchless, from pay mechanisms to be very easy but at the same time safe. Now moving forward to the next stage of this is how do we make sure that the tourists flying in from all over the world are safe and have the experiences of a normal world which we have expected in the past? And we take that extremely seriously. At the moment more than 80 percent of the staff that is working within the tourism sector has been vaccinated and close to 100 percent of our staff on our national airline has been vaccinated. This is just one step closer to a tourism world.

Quest: Right. Now with that in mind, are you in favour and -- this is the big issue in travel and tourism today -- are you in favour of vaccine passports or do you see that as vaccination and testing as being a way forward?

Al Mubarak: You have to get the best of both worlds. The fact of the matter is, like I said, the whole world is working right now on how we can come back to normal. And when it comes back to normal of course travel is a major component. We've been working from day one with IATA, our national carrier has been working from day one, and making sure what are the guidelines of these vaccine passports and how do we make sure people have choice? As far as I'm concerned, it's all going to be about how easy it is for travellers. And I think the vaccine passports are just going to be a sort of checklist of what are the needs and the expectations from each airport from around the world. It does not mean if you're not vaccinated, you won't -- places won't basically have you come in, but you might just have more rigorous guidelines i.e. more testing and maybe some sort of quarantine from the destination you're reaching to.

Quest: OK. Now interesting, the UAE, if we look at these numbers. The UAE, you're sort of just behind your new diplomatic partner, Israel, in terms of the vaccine doses per 100 people with six -- the two of you, particularly UAE, you are a long way ahead of the rest of the world, U.K., U.S. and Chile. Now that is a good thing for your people and your citizens and your hospitality industry. But the risk element of opening up -- and I'm wondering do you see any opportunity of vaccination holidays?

Al Mubarak: When you mean vaccination holidays, you mean people coming in and being vaccinated while they're in Abu Dhabi or in the other Emirates? Is that your question, Mr. Quest?

Quest: Yes, it is. Because we were just hearing from Cuba how they are looking forward to doing something similar. But I'm just wondering as countries move forward in this regard everybody's looking for the key that opens up travel. And I wonder whether that is a potential -- or maybe not.

Al Mubarak: We have to look at the science. The science of the matter is that every single city or every single country is looking for the 70 to 75 percent threshold in vaccinating its populous. I think once countries reach that sort of comfort level, I think the opening up to others will basically be a much more simpler matter.

Quest: And as you open up, when do you think you will get back to anything like you were -- which, of course, is one of the world's leading tourist destinations?

Al Mubarak: I think it's -- my humble opinion is probably you'll start seeing hints of that towards the end of the summer. And to really start seeing close to normalcy, probably towards the end of the year.

 




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