The year's last long weekend is just days away, and UAE residents are busy planning a small break. Employees of both private and public sectors will get Friday, September 29, off to mark Prophet Muhammad's (Peace be upon him) birthday. When combined with the Saturday-Sunday weekend, this translates into a three-day weekend.
Sharjah government employees will get a four-day break as their official holiday to mark the occasion is Thursday, September 28.
New visa-free destination
One destination that's seeing a surge in demand is Uzbekistan, as it has a visa-free policy for UAE residents.
"We have observed an incredible surge in demand for travel to Uzbekistan," said Mika Uhrincova, PR manager at Holiday Factory. She attributed the demand to the country's breathtaking landscapes and a "new visa-free policy that has resonated with UAE residents".
"With its unique appeal, Uzbekistan is tailor-made for short escapes and rejuvenating long weekend getaways," added Uhrincova.
Packages nearly sold out
Industry experts have reported a surge in inquiries and bookings for travel during the long weekend.
"With the weekend comprising only three days, the residents are showing a preference for destinations with a short flight's reach. They are opting for packages priced in the range of Dh2,200, offering affordability and a rejuvenating getaway," said Raheesh Babu, COO of Musafir.com.
According to him, popular destinations include Krabi, Phuket, Almaty, Baku and Yerevan.
"(To some of these destinations), there is no requirement for a visa for the majority of nationalities residing in the UAE," said Babu. "Another reason is the cost of the package, which is nearly 20 per cent cheaper. We have sold out nearly 80 per cent of our packages for the long weekend," added Babu.
Rashid Abbas, managing director at Arooha Tours and Travels, said the mini-vacation during this period has prompted many to explore short-haul destinations.
Most popular destinations
According to Ayoub El Mamoun, travel expert at Skyscanner, India, UK and Saudi Arabia top the list of the most popular destinations for UAE travellers this long weekend. Other countries include Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey.
The most popular cities are London, Mumbai, Cairo, Manila and Jeddah, he added, citing searches from the UAE conducted between July 1 and September 21 for departures between September 29 and October 1.
Airlines and travel agencies in the UAE have residents' long weekend plans covered but are advising them to decide soon as packages are getting sold out. Travel will get more expensive closer to the date.
Dubai-based airline flydubai has announced return flight deals starting from Dh725 for the holiday. In an email, the carrier said residents can avail of the deals by booking before September 27 to travel between September 28 and October 2. Return fares to Salalah start from Dh725; Alexandria, Dh1,095; Istanbul, Dh1,230; Tblisi, Dh1,545; Baku, Dh1,575; Pattaya, Dh1,665; and Sarajevo, Dh2,265, among others. It's also offering holidays with rates starting from Dh1,549.
Skyscanner's 'everywhere' search option revealed deals from Dh201 to Oman, Dh563 to Turkey, Dh730 to Austria, and Dh983 to Sweden, among others.
Spontaneous vs planned travel
People have become used to travelling during extended weekends, with many planning their trips the moment a holiday is announced, said Abbas.
"Two of the main factors pushing demand for travel are visa-on-arrival and affordable holiday packages," added Abbas.
Spontaneous travel plans are also on the rise. According to a Skyscanner poll, almost half (42 per cent) of UAE travellers have arrived at the airport without a destination in mind and booked then and there. About 60 per cent said they have booked a holiday less than four days before departure.
The travel agency said the "growing number of visa-on-arrival and visa-free travel options from the UAE" are giving residents more destinations to explore.