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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Tourists from around the world stepped foot in the UAE for the first time in nearly four months on Tuesday.
The first batch of commercial flights carrying overseas holidaymakers landed on the tarmac at Dubai International Airport shortly after midnight.
Passengers arrived from a number of destinations including London, Cairo and Amsterdam.
They were among the first tourists to enter the country since airports were closed in March to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Wearing face masks and gloves, visitors were discreetly screened by thermal scanners on arrival and were greeted with a smile by the Dubai airport staff.
The General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai posted videos of the occasion on its social media channels.
People still really want to go on holiday and we can see that from research online and from the demand
Helal Al Marri, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing
The various clips also showed officers at the immigration desks placing special stickers on visitors' passports wishing them a warm welcome to their “second home”.
Speaking to The National from JFK Airport in New York early on Tuesday morning, Dubai-bound passenger Jeremiah Tshimanga said he was looking forward to his first visit to the UAE.
“I’m so excited to finally be able to experience and explore Dubai,” he said.
“I’ve been waiting patiently during this quarantine phase for the borders to finally open.
“I booked my ticket around June 10 because I was following news from the UAE government about the country possibly opening up in July.”
After taking a flight from Los Angeles to New York on Monday, Mr Tshimanga boarded Emirates flight EK202 to Dubai at about 6am UAE time on Tuesday, and is due to land at Terminal 3 in Dubai at 7.45pm.
He said the long journey was “well worth it” after months of waiting to visit friends in the Emirates.
“I think Dubai is one of the most fascinating growing cities in the world,” he said.
“I see myself doing business and owning several properties in Dubai in the near future so I hope to network and meet a lot of great people on my visit.”
Mr Tshimanga said he booked a 10-day stay at a five-star hotel on The Palm Jumeirah.
On Tuesday, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, toured Dubai International Airport to ensure it was ready to receive tourists.
"I ... followed up on the various precautionary measures that are applied to ensure the health and safety of travellers and to ensure the safety of our community," he said on Twitter.
"For years, Dubai International Airport has been at the top of the list of major airports for international travel and we will maintain this position with the efforts of teams that only know first place. We are optimistic about our ability to establish Dubai's exceptional position in the travel and tourism sector," he said.
Earlier, Helal Al Marri, director general of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, said he expected travel would “normalise” over the next few months as more countries ease travel restrictions.
“Today, countries are opening up, albeit slowly, but I do expect more countries to open up during the course of the summer,” he said in an interview with CNN.
“As we come into the fall and the winter travel will normalise, albeit within this covid situation.
“Once we look through that, to post-covid, we expect [travel] to come back to normal.
“People still really want to go on holiday and we can see that from research online and from the demand.”
Asked about whether the UAE’s strict precautionary measures had the potential to put tourists off visiting, he said the UAE government was keen to protect both visitors and residents in the country.
“People can take a Covid-19 test before they come. For those who don’t, they need to take it in the city,” he said.
“That is our way of safeguarding everyone in the city this and to ensure we don’t need to apply quarantine for those who test positive.”
When tourist flights resumed on Tuesday, 84-year-old Alice Afful was due to board one of the first flights to Dubai from London Heathrow.
“Her ticket was booked in February to come visit in April but due to Covid-19 her ticket was put on hold to instead arrive on July 7,” her daughter Fiona Maffeo, who lives in Dubai, said.
“She was not able to get a test prior to flying so will get tested at the airport when she lands.”
Due to arrive at 11.35pm on Tuesday night, Ms Afful planned to spend one month in the country with her family, the first few days of which would be in self-isolation until her test results come back.
Travelling alone, Ms Maffeo said her mother was excited to be one of the first tourists to arrive in Dubai following the ease of travel restrictions.
“In the UK, due to her age, she has been in total isolation over the past few months so was very lonely away from her family,” she said.
“She has two granddaughters that she worships so coming to Dubai means everything to her and she is super excited.”
Noting July 7 as a proud day for the UAE, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, president of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, marked the occasion on Twitter.
“Starting today, Dubai is all set to welcome visitors from around the world with the highest standards of health and safety in line with international protocols,” he tweeted.
He thanked the UAE’s leadership, government and tourism sector stakeholders for their efforts to kick-start visitor flights into the country.
He also said the city was recently recognised as a "safe destination" by the World Travel and Tourism Council, which awarded Dubai a Safe Travels stamp.
Updated: July 7, 2020 06:03 PM
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