Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

Tourists sit at a restaurant at the Al Naseem hotel in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, on July 7, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2020

Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

  • Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight
  • Dubai is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts

DUBAI: With a “welcome” passport sticker and coronavirus tests on arrival, Dubai reopened its doors to international visitors Tuesday in the hope of reviving its tourism industry after a nearly four-month closure.
But businesses are mainly betting on those already living in the gleaming desert city to energise its ailing economy and serve as a test run before wary foreign holidaymakers return.
“A warm welcome to your second home,” said the sticker applied to passports at Dubai airport, where employees wore hazmat suits and vending machines offered personal protective equipment.
Italian tourist Francesca Conte said on arrival she was worried up until the last minute that her flight would be canceled.
“When I saw passengers queueing at the gate, I thought today we are not leaving, since the trip to Dubai had already been skipped three times,” Conte said.
She said she felt sad “seeing empty spaces” on the plane and stewards and hostesses “dressed like nurses and doctors,” in their lab coats.
The reopening Tuesday came as the number of COVID-19 cases in the United Arab Emirates climbed to 52,600 included 326 deaths, with millions of foreign workers living in cramped accommodation particularly hard hit.
Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight. If not, they can take the test on arrival, but must self-isolate until they receive the all-clear.
Tourism has long been the lifeline of the glitzy Gulf emirate, one of the seven sheikhdoms that make up the UAE.
High season starts in October when the scorching heat of the Gulf summer starts to dissipate.
Dubai welcomed more than 16.7 million visitors last year, and before the pandemic crippled global travel, the aim had been to reach 20 million arrivals in 2020.
“We are ready to receive tourists while we take all necessary precautions,” said Talal Al-Shanqiti of Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in a video message tweeted on Sunday.
With scant oil resources compared to its neighbors, Dubai has built the most diversified economy in the Gulf, boasting a reputation as a financial, commercial and tourism hub despite an economic downturn in recent years.
The city-state is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts.
But all have taken a severe hit during the coronavirus outbreak, and Dubai’s GDP in the first quarter of 2020 contracted 3.5 percent following two years of modest growth.
Dubai-based airline Emirates, the largest in the Middle East, has been forced to slash its sprawling network and is believed to have laid off thousands of staff.
Before reopening to international tourists, authorities launched social media campaigns and deployed hundreds of social media “influencers” to tout Dubai’s attractions.
As the hospitality business works out how to create an environment that follows strict hygiene rules but is still worth the hassle for potential foreign clients, hotels are offering Dubai residents “staycation” and “daycation” deals to offset the slump.
Restarting hospitality by “primarily targeting the domestic market is an important first step in our phased approach toward restoring normalcy in the tourism industry,” said Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
And key to the effort are health and safety measures at hotels to “reassure guests and travelers that Dubai is one of the world’s safest destinations,” he said in a statement last month.
Boosting domestic tourism is also part of the strategy of the UAE’s other main destination, the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi, which welcomed a record 11.35 million international visitors in 2019.
The UAE’s capital is home to top attractions including an F1 circuit and the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, which in late June opened its doors to masked, gloved visitors after a 100-day closure.
But the emirate does not share Dubai’s enthusiasm about opening doors to foreign tourists just yet, although those with negative test results are now allowed to enter.
“Plans have changed and we are not expecting to have the same numbers of 2019 this year definitely. It would take another two to three years,” said Ali Al-Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing for the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.
“As of today, I can say domestic tourism is what is in our plan. We believe domestic tourism is key now and we don’t see us opening for international travelers very soon,” he told AFP on Monday.


Egypt mulls law to protect women’s identities as MeToo movement escalates

Updated 10 min 22 sec ago

Egypt mulls law to protect women’s identities as MeToo movement escalates

  • Move comes as hundreds of women have started to speak up on social media about sexual assault in Egypt
  • A 2017 poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women

CAIRO: Egyptian lawmakers are pushing for a new law to protect the identity of women coming forward to report sexual abuse and assault as the nation’s MeToo movement picks up speed.
An Egyptian parliamentarian committee has approved a draft law that would give survivors of sexual assault and harassment the automatic right to anonymity, with the law expected to go to vote at a general session of the parliament later this month.
The move comes as hundreds of women have started to speak up on social media about sexual assault in Egypt, with the public prosecution and National Council for Women supporting the movement and offering legal and social protection.
Spurred on by the growing MeToo movement, data entry specialist Bassant Abdel Wahab, 22, went public recently about being sexually abused by a human rights activist when she was 17 and reported him to the civil society group where he works.
The man has now been suspended from his job while his organization investigates Abdel Wahab’s complaint along with those of other female colleagues who accused him of assault.
“Sexual assault incidents that have been hidden for years are continuing to surface and in a raging way,” Wahab said.
“It is like a tsunami that could change attitudes and laws on sexual assault against women.”
The frequency of such cases being reported in the conservative Muslim country began to rise after the 2011 revolution as reports of sexual assaults, harassment and rape in Cairo’s Tahrir Square made local and international headlines.
But this year there has been a spike in reporting about cases of sexual assault since early July when an Instagram page revealed the case of a university student who is accused of sexually assaulting and blackmailing multiple women.
Within five days of the case being disclosed, the National Council for Women said that it had received 400 complaints mainly about violence against women.
Lawmaker Magda Nasr said the new law to allow anonymity of sexual abuse survivors will be a game changer for women in Egypt as it will give greater protection to report such cases.
“There is an apparent political will to protect women rights and attempt to reduce as much as possible violence against women,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Nasr said the latest wave of complaints came after an Instagram page in July accused a university student of sexually assaulting and blackmailing multiple women. The student was arrested and the case is being investigated by the authorities.
The same Instagram account also exposed a gang rape said to involve six men from wealthy and powerful families that prosecutors are now investigating.
Since then Egyptian actresses have spoken up against how they were subjected to sexual assault.
One actress, Rania Youssef — who faced charges in 2018 that were later dropped after wearing a see-through outfit to the film festival — published photos of those responsible on social media.
In other cases, two other human rights activists were accused of sexual assault against female employees and a Coptic priest was defrocked on sexual assault allegations.
“It is a moment where women can have more gains in their fight against sexual abuse,” said lawyer Entessar El-Saeed, executive director of Cairo Foundation for Development and Law.
El-Saeed said several non-governmental organizations and parliamentarians were also pushing for a unified law on violence against women that would provide greater protection for women and girls from sexual assault and blackmail.
The bill toughens penalties against sexual abuse in all forms, criminalizes rape within marriage, and includes better reporting mechanisms, confidentiality guarantees, and protection for witnesses and survivors.
“The bill has been in the parliament for two years and it is now the perfect time to approve it,” said El-Saeed, who is the head of one of seven NGOs that drafted the bill.
A 2017 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women, and 99 percent of women in Egypt interviewed by the United Nations in 2013 reported sexual harassment.
An outcry over attacks on women near Tahrir Square during President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s inauguration celebrations in 2014 prompted a new law punishing sexual harassment with at least six months in jail.
But women rights activists view the law as too weak.
“The penalty needs to be toughened and there needs to be legal mechanisms that make it easier for women to report and get their rights,” El-Saeed said.