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UAE sees dramatic rise in flight bookings from Russia

Dubai Media Office
Air travel from Russia to the UAE has exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 27% in 2022 so far

  • Russia to UAE flight bookings up 306% for next four months
  • Surge in demand for real estate as CIS investors flock in
  • Abu Dhabi seeing a particular increase in foreign visitors

The UAE has seen a hefty rise in flight bookings from Russia as domestic tourists, shut off from most western countries, flock to the emirates for leisure and business.

Air travel from Russia to the UAE during the first eight months of the year exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 27 percent, according to London-based ForwardKeys, a global travel data and analytics company.

Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys, said that flight bookings for the the next four months, covering September to December 2022, are 112 percent ahead (as of August 17), compared to the same period in 2019.

Conversely, bookings from the UAE to Russia have more or less collapsed this year, ForwardKeys noted. Flights were down by nearly half in the first seven months of 2022, compared to pre-pandemic times in 2019.

Russian travellers have been restricted to where they can fly to following the sanctions imposed by the US and more than 30 countries around the world since President Putin launched the Ukraine invasion in February this year.

The UAE has remained neutral in the war and has therefore become a haven for Russian visitors and capital.

Dubai’s property market has continued to rise this year, with real estate transaction volumes up 60 percent and the value of units sold rising 85 percent. Property consultancy Betterhomes also reported that the number of Russian buyers surged 164 percent year-on-year over the same period.

“The war in Ukraine and the impact of sanctions on Russian-speaking individuals and their establishments have led wealthy CIS investors to flee their countries and find a haven in Dubai,” Tamara Getigezheva, CEO and partner at Mira Estate, said last month.

“CIS billionaires and entrepreneurs have been flocking to the UAE in record numbers, leading to a surge in demand for real estate,” she added.

Tourism numbers have also increased. Dubai attracted 7.12 million international overnight visitors between January and June 2022, a year-on-year increase of 183 percent.

Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) said Western Europe accounted for 22 percent of tourist arrivals, while Russia, CIS and Eastern Europe together accounting for 11 percent of total visitors.

“For us Russia, Ukraine, CIS in general, are very important,” Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, told delegates during the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai in May.

“Russia has always been in the top 10 markets for sure, in the top six I would say. Even now, when we look at the Q1 latest [visitor data] for 2022 they are still within those numbers… They are still strong,” he added.

When asked if the global backlash and sanctions against Russia had impacted Russian tourists looking to travel abroad to Dubai, the emirate’s tourism chief said the answer was an emphatic “no”.

“In terms of numbers, we are still a very comfortable destination for those markets,” he said. 

This trend looks set to continue as flight bookings from Russia to the UAE for the next four months are up 306 percent year-on-year.

But it is not just Dubai that is benefiting. Flight bookings to UAE capital Abu Dhabi from Russia are up by 1,624 year-on-year for September to December this year and 539 percent above pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“What is particularly noteworthy is the increase in popularity of Abu Dhabi, which has increased its share of visitors to the UAE by 11 percentage points since 2019, compared to Dubai, whose overall share has decreased by 10 points,” ForwardKeys’ Ponti said.

However, the war has impacted some aviation links between the two countries. Reuters reported that European budget carrier Wizz Air this week suspended plans to resume flights between Moscow and Abu Dhabi.

In a statement last week, Wizz Air made no mention of the social media backlash, which included some calls to boycott the airline, but referred only to “industry supply chain limitations”.

London-listed Wizz Air holds a 49 percent stake in Wizz Air Abu Dhabi whose aircraft carry the European airline’s name and branding. Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADQ owns 51 percent.

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