“I have spent a fortune travelling to distant shores and looked at lofty mountains and boundless oceans, and yet I haven’t found time to take a few steps from my house to look at a single dew drop on a single blade of grass.”
When Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote these famous lines more than a hundred years ago, he was being philosophical and nationalistic, also a tad self-depreciating – but he certainly wasn’t talking about the tectonic shift we see today towards domestic tourism.
Yet his words ring so true today, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, when travel and entertainment options, seem almost limited to admiring “a single dew drop on a single blade of grass” in our backyards.
As international travel comes to a standstill with closed borders and struggling airlines, experts around the world are looking up to domestic travel as a means to kickstart the recovery process, when travel restrictions finally come to an end.
Domestic travel is great; it keeps the money within the country, providing much-needed economic boost, doesn’t require hours of travelling on the road, no border checks and no applying for visas.
Domestic tourism is also more affordable for today’s traveller, majority of whom are expected to be careful of their expenditure in the near future. Domestic tourism also primes the industry for international travellers when cross-border and airline travel open up.
The problem with domestic travel in Gulf countries?
Not every country in the Gulf was created equal. Not every border contains within itself a well-developed domestic tourism product.
No points for guessing that within the GCC, the UAE comes out on top when we consider staycation products that are ready or will be ready once all the travel restrictions are lifted – whether we consider its wide range of accommodation options or entertainment choices.
Other Gulf countries have also been developing their product as well. Motorsport has become a national symbol for the island country of Bahrain, being the first GCC country to host Formula 1. Last year, Bahrain saw the much-anticipated opening of ‘The Merchant House’, a boutique hotel owned by the Campbell-Gray Hotel group, and Dive Bahrain, the world’s largest underwater theme park.
Nature-blessed Oman has popular staycation options in Salalah, which interestingly and conveniently becomes green, wet and cool during the dry summer months the rest of us experience in the GCC. There are also accommodation options in capital Muscat and on Jebel Akhdar mountain an hour’s drive away from the city.
Even before Saudi Arabia’s megaprojects are ready, the kingdom is used to a steady flow of domestic travellers for leisure. According to the data provided by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in 2017, the number of domestic travellers in Saudi Arabia amounted to approximately 18.4 million, compared to 13.3 million in 2008. These numbers do not include business travel but only leisure travellers.
The UAE now enjoys a relative relaxation of lockdown – we can move about without permission from the police between 6am and 10pm. Beaches and public parks are now open, but restrictions apply to the number of people who can hang out in the group, apart from the mandatory two-metre social distancing and wearing of masks. The coming weeks are likely to see more easing up of restrictions with some commercial flights even expected to start operating again in June, pending approvals.
Quarantined inside our burrows for months, we have been forced to slow down and appreciate things we always took for granted, our mobility is now governed by government. This mandatory stop to our movement, albeit for our own good and the greater good, has affected people deeply. While some cannot wait to go back to travelling for leisure or to be united with their families, some have happily resigned to couch surfing and the world of Zoom calls and digital fam trips. Here’s hoping they will be reminded of their undying passion and blind love for travel when the time is right.
How long will you wait for your first staycation after travel restrictions are lift?
- I have already done a staycation post Covid-19
- Within one week of restrictions being lifted
- Within one month of restrictions being lifted
- I have no plans for a staycation in the foreseeable future