June to August are usually peak travel times, as they coincide with school summer holidays.
As peak travel season approaches, a majority of Indian expatriates in the UAE are cancelling or putting their plans to travel home for the summer on hold, Khaleej Times has learnt.
The months from June to August are usually peak travel times for Indian expatriates, as they coincide with school summer holidays.
However, uncertainty over the ongoing suspension on incoming passengers from India, as well as the intensive vaccination campaign for teenagers in the UAE, are primary reasons for the low demand, said Indian residents and travel agents.
“Peak travels to India are closely tied with school holiday seasons. In this case, the UAE has announced a robust vaccination campaign for students aged 12-15. Parents are concerned that, if they travel over the summer, their children might miss their vaccination schedules,” said Raheesh Babu, general manager of Musafir.com, an online travel agency.
“Due to this, there is a high chance that school students may have to return to campus in September,” he added. “Since the travel situation to India is highly volatile, residents are avoiding the trip because they also fear getting stranded.” The agency said it has received several cancellations on bookings as well.
The suspension of incoming passenger traffic from India to the UAE began on April 24. It was extended on May 4 by the UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) in light of a deadly second wave of Covid-19 currently affecting India.
A fortnight ago, Emirates Airlines announced an extension on the suspension of passenger flights from India to the UAE until June 30.
Currently, only a certain category of travellers, including golden visa holders, diplomats, and those with special permissions are allowed to travel.
In-country visit visa extensions are high in demand
Furthermore, India’s international air operations have been suspended since March last year and only countries which have signed an air bubble agreement with the South Asian country is operating passenger flights.
“There is very little clarity on the schedule for flights under the air bubble agreement at the moment. People have very little confidence,” said Babu.
He also said that the demand for in-country extension of visit visas are extremely high at the moment. “We have at least 1,500 of such visit visa extension cases every day. Residents whose parents and other relatives on visit visa, who are currently in the UAE, are extending their stay,” he explained.
Mir Waseem Raja, the manager of MICE and Holidays at Galadari International Travel Services also told Khaleej Times that enquiries for travel to India have dried up over the last several weeks. “People are scared they will get stuck in India and even those who want to book tickets are asking for a guarantee. Unfortunately, this is not up to us,” said Raja.
He added, “There are very few cases of expats who want to send their families back home as well. The current demand is only for entire families, as they are not finding it safe to be in India at the moment either.” However, agents like Mir are hoping the suspension will end by this month, resulting in an influx of travellers starting July.
Afi Ahmed, managing director of Smart Travels, echoed observations of very low demand from expatriate families. “As long as the suspension on incoming passengers remains, the confidence to travel is going to be very low. Also, Covid-19 cases in India are coming down at a slow pace.”
We will wait and watch, say expatriates
Expatriates, however, prefer to wait and watch. As many of them haven’t travelled home since March last year, the interest to return to India is very high.
Manoj Nair, a Malayalee expatriate from Abu Dhabi, said, “I want to go to India desperately. My parents are aged; I haven’t seen them in two years, and I had plans to go visit at the end of this month. However, I cannot afford to get stuck there, as I’m the sole breadwinner in my family.”
KV Shamsudheen, the chairman of the Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust, who is currently in India, told Khaleej Times, “There are many Indians who are stuck in India. Many are facing problems, as half their family is in the UAE and the breadwinner is in India. In some cases, their residence visas are either set to expire soon or the delay in returning to the workplace is resulting in loss of pay.”
He added, “If authorities permit all residence visa holders, who have already taken both doses of the vaccine, to return to the UAE, it would be a huge relief for many.”