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Offbeat locations come into spotlight as UAE rolls out 'World's Coolest Winter'

Offbeat locations come into spotlight as UAE rolls out 'World's Coolest Winter'

Dubai: The offbeat is going mainstream in the UAE’s travel destinations.

Lama Tours is offering trips to the Hajar and Hatta mountains for about Dh530 to Dh550, while another operator, Daytur, has been scheduling domestic tour packages that do not stick to the usual destinations.

“We started pushing Fujairah and Ras Al-Khaimah and for Hatta, we are doing a trip on daily basis,” said Zeeshan Mohammed, General Manager of Daytur. This is “mainly for the local market – before we were working with European tourists only.”

Daytur’s package costs about Dh175 and includes mostly sightseeing. However, clients can opt for cycling and kayaking as add-ons.

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This has been the year when domestic travel has gone in for unprecedented growth. New experiences have also helpedget that process going. Image Credit: Supplied

Part of a bigger push

All these individual efforts fit in neatly with the UAE’s recently unveiled 45-day long ‘World’s Coolest Winter’ campaign to get the country’s domestic tourism possibilities into a higher gear.

Recently, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was seen cycling and trekking through Hatta. The photos were shared widely on Instagram, and that instantly raised interest about that location.

“These are places that residents here have not visited,” said Hassan Zakir, sales executive at Lama Tourism. “You will find hundreds of companies offering desert safari and dhow cruises, but not many provide overnight camping experience in the mountains.

“This is why we are trying to promote something which is unique, and it can also attract many.”

Hajar Mountain
Instead of just the beaches, this year the country';s mountains are featuring prominently in residents'; plans. Image Credit: Supplied

What government wants

The World’s Coolest Winter (WCW) initiative – also the first such effort taken up at the federal level – will thus continue what hotel operators and travel companies have been doing since June – get residents to think of taking breaks within the country. As flights keep getting disrupted over new travel bans and lockdown measures in some part of the world, this will be the first winter that a majority of UAE residents would have stayed put.

If post July was about staycations, the WCW is about getting residents to explore. So, travel firms are focusing efforts on the mountains in the northeast instead of just the sandy beaches.

Making sites ready

“We have a small team exploring more sites in Fujairah and working with the tourism authority to have trekking tours in the emirate’s wadis,” said Mohammed.

Industry sources agree that the latest UAE campaign is a much required boost for the pandemic-struck tourism industry. This is helping build the “trust of the people,” said Mohammed, adding that just a few months ago residents had no clue what these places were all about.

Benefits will flow

Hotels are already seeing visible benefits from the campaign, with some reporting more enquiries and bookings. Jeannette Smith, Director of Sales & Marketing at W Abu Dhabi, said: “We’ve already seen green shoots and increased occupancies in the UAE as a whole. The World’s Coolest Winter strengthens this.”

Even prior to the campaign, occupancy rates were already on the rise thanks to the week-long December 2 National Day break. Between November 30 and December 6, Abu Dhabi witnessed the highest occupancy rates at 69 per cent, followed by Ajman (66.5 per cent) and Dubai (65.8 per cent), according to data from the hospitality consultancy STR.

The boost was felt across emirates, with Fujairah properties recording 62.4 per cent occupancy, Sharjah at 53.9 per cent ( after the emirate rolled back restrictions on conferences and hosting of weddings), and Ras Al Khaimah at 52.5 per cent.

This strategy - World';s Coolest Winter - will help to contribute towards a more even recovery for the UAE hotel industry, as visitations will hopefully spread more evenly across the nation

- Ralph Hollister, travel and tourism analyst at GlobalData