UAE - More and more people are dining out, going to the movies and hosting weddings as businesses in the UAE see a gradual return to normalcy.

Wedding planners and event managers indicated that they have been satisfied with the way businesses bounced back, especially in November and December 2021. But then came a stutter, fuelled by the Omicron variant of Covid-19, which prompted residents to become more cautious.

Though the threat of the variant has partially circumvented the defences built by massive inoculation drives in the country, most business owners in the UAE are hopeful the disruption will fade sooner than expected.

'A great season of celebrations'

Rahul Kumar, CEO and owner of Vivaah Celebrations, said: "In our business of events and weddings, we are quite happy with the way the business has bounced back. We've had a great season of celebrations over the last 12 months."

In a few cases, Kumar said he and his team even had to turn down business, as they were busy with other clients.

"We can confidently say that the business has revived for us at a 100 per cent," he said.

Kumar and his company delivered 16 large-scale weddings, including the first Covid-compliant wedding celebration in Dubai.

"The region is best positioned to attract world-class events and especially large wedding celebrations," Kumar said. "We owe this to the leaders of our country, who have been crystal clear about the precautionary measures that are to be followed, the clearly defined event guidelines and the active vaccination drive. This has given our clients a lot of faith in the system, and they are willing to sign large value contracts especially for the biggest celebration of their lives, their wedding."

Sanjay Vazirani, chairman and managing director, Foodlink Global Restaurants & Catering Services LLC, said: “We are following all safety protocols and until two weeks back, we did not see the turnout getting affected. The rise in cases is definitely worrisome and now we are seeing a rise in the number of people refraining to step outside.

"So, dine-in is slightly affected, though it's not significant, while home delivery sales have shown a good rise. But sales still haven’t reached the numbers seen in pre-Covid times.“

Consumer spending expected to spike in 2022

The uncertainties of the past few months have prompted entrepreneurs and business owners to constantly reset and reorient their ideas.

"It can get easier if resilience becomes a part of your personality trait so the changes can be approached with a solution-driven mindset and in fact breed creativity," Vazirani said.

Even if most people are confident of dining out, the F&B community highlighted that residents are still conscious of going to crowded places or community events.

Jugal Parekh, owner of Yummy Dosa said: “Eating out is definitely coming back to normal, although it still hasn't reached at par with the levels of 2019. However, we are hopeful that in 2022, it will surely gain the pace of the pre-pandemic era. We are grateful to be in the UAE, where the pandemic has been handled so smoothly, which has let everyone get back on track faster than the rest of the world.”

The longer weekend could also mean a facelift can be expected initially in revenue, considering people will now have more leisure time.

“The three-day weekend is a great opportunity for the overall hospitality and tourism industry. However, if cases will still be on an upward swing, there would be a fair split or more dependency over ordering online or back to cooking at home,” said Eti Bhasin, owner of Dhaba Lane.

Additionally, with an increasing number of residents getting the Covid-19 booster dose, an influx of customers is also expected in malls and event bookings are projected to rise in 2022.

UAE resident Hozefa Arsiwala said: “It feels great to see that the UAE is now back into business with malls, movie halls and restaurants operating as before. This gives us a sense of comfort and assurance that the government is taking the necessary measures to curb the pandemic, as well as ensuring life is back to normal."

 Arsiwala commended business owners for taking "absolute care" to ensure all Covid-19 safety protocols are in place.

"This not only makes me feel safe and secured, but further reinstates my trust in moving around without any apprehensions. If these measures are adapted as a practice in the coming months, I am confident life will feel like pre-Covid,” Arsiwala said.

Going out, but staying safe

More expats are scoping for less crowded places to frequent to ensure their safety.

Filipino expat Izabella Faye Lebig, a Dubai resident, said: "When the Covid cases started to go up again, we decided to limit going out, especially avoiding crowded and enclosed areas. We still go to the mall and restaurants occasionally, but opt not to go to crowded areas. I think despite the current situation, we can still find ways to go out, but will have to take all the necessary health precautions for our safety.”

American expat Naeema Zaki echoed Lebig's sentiments and said she and her family are selective about where they go.

"We are ordering our shopping online more than before for safety reasons. When we think of family gatherings, we now look for places that are outdoors," she said. "We, as a family, like going outside to parks, where you can do a picnic as opposed to going to the mall, which was our typical go-to destination on the weekend. So, we look at more outdoorsy options that we can do with the children.”

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