By ISABEL DEBRE – Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, said Thursday it handled more than 13.6 million passengers in the first three months of 2022 – more than double the number from last year, a clear sign that a long-awaited travel revival has hit the global aviation hub.
Passenger numbers this quarter represent the airport’s busiest since the virus hit in 2020 and compares to just 5.7 million passengers recorded in the same period last year.
In a sign, however, that long-haul markets have yet to fully recover from the pandemic, CEO Paul Griffiths said the airport did not expect to see transit traffic return to pre-virus levels before the less than two years. Still, air traffic has improved as countries around the world eased COVID-19-related travel restrictions such as testing and vaccination rules.
“It’s been hugely encouraging,” Griffiths told The Associated Press, praising the government’s efforts to keep Dubai’s border open, vaccinate aggressively and introduce policies that have attracted an international workforce. “We are now seeing a massive resurgence. … A whole new sector of the world’s population is starting to see Dubai as a very credible and attractive place to live and work.”
The main east-west transit point, home to Emirates, long the crown jewel of Dubai’s state-linked businesses, is expected to handle 58.3 million passengers in 2022.
This year’s passenger traffic has so far been driven by the airport’s reliable destinations and source markets with large expat populations in Dubai – India, Pakistan and the UK.
More recently, after Russian tanks entered Ukraine and the West imposed sanctions on the Kremlin, the airport became one of the few remaining flight corridors outside of Russia.
Major American companies have transferred employees from Russia to the United Arab Emirates. The Gulf Arab Federation has avoided outright criticism of Russia’s war on Ukraine and has not enforced sanctions imposed by the West. The UAE also offers three-month multiple-entry visas on arrival to Russians. Emirates flights between Dubai and Russia continued.
“Since the onset of tensions in Ukraine and Russia, Dubai has remained open to people coming from those areas,” Griffiths said, saying he could not provide a breakdown of passenger traffic from Russia. “Where others have closed the borders, we have remained open.”
Griffiths also said that Al Maktoum International’s private jet terminal at Dubai World Central, the Gulf city’s second airport, has been “incredibly busy”, with a recent peak in traffic of 400%. Satellite images show dozens of private jets parked at the terminal. .
He declined to clarify whether the parked jets had ties to wealthy Russians trying to leave the country with their assets, saying only:
“We just allowed everyone to go about their business.”
Griffiths sounded optimistic when asked how Dubai Airport is rebounding not only from the pandemic’s devastating hit on aviation, but also travel retail sales.
Dubai Airport’s soaring terminals, with cascading waterfalls and man-made palm trees, cavernous duty-free shops and luxury boutiques, depend on revenue from retail concessions. As international passenger traffic plunged and Chinese tourists largely disappeared, much of that money dried up.
But Griffiths said tourists who have passed through the terminals in recent months are big spenders. Demand for luxury goods remained high in Dubai.
“Interestingly, even though the number of passengers has declined over the past few years, those who travel tend to spend more,” he said. “If we provide the experience people expect, we hope that will be enough to attract people to Dubai.”
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