DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Nations around the world are rushing into lockdown, bracing for a brutal push as the omicron variant spreads like wildfire.
But in Dubai, Donna Sese is bracing for a very different surge: countless restaurant reservations and meter-long drink bills.
“We’re back and busy as before,” said Sese, manager of Yalumba restaurant at the five-star Le Meridien, where Friday brunch enthusiasts in Dubai pay $ 250 for sumptuous spreads with flowing Clicquot champagne. free. .
The globalized city-state appears to be in the midst of a boom season, spurred by one of the world’s highest vaccination rates and government measures to attract business and defuse tensions with regional rivals.
Maskless debauchery has returned to the dance floors. Brunch lovers drink with abandon. Home buyers are flooding the market. Tourists are snapping up hotel suites. Expatriate millionaires are settling in the emirate. Coronavirus infections, although now making a comeback, remain below past peaks.
The Dubai government did not respond to the request for comment.
It’s déjà vu for those who remember last year’s December rush in Dubai, when the city courted tourists and influencers fleeing viruses and winter weather. The open-door policy allowed revelers to satisfy their pent-up desire to go out on New Years Eve, but infections quickly reached unseen heights and hospitals filled up.
A year later, the mass vaccination left Dubai feeling off the hook. There have been very few hospitalizations and deaths from the virus – even as the threat of omicron looms and daily infections rose to more than 660 on Wednesday after troughs of less than 100 for weeks.
While many Western countries have seen inoculation rates stabilize, the United Arab Emirates reports that 99% of all people eligible for vaccines – anyone over the age of 12 – have received at least one dose.
Some have received five.
In the global vaccine rush, the UAE has relied on a shot from Sinopharm, a state-backed Chinese company. Even though the country’s vaccination rate has skyrocketed this spring, infections have increased, as have concerns about Sinopharm’s insufficient antibody response.
Sinopharm is no longer an option in Dubai. Those who received both doses, including the emirate’s legions of poorly paid foreign workers, also opted for a double vaccination with Pfizer-BioNTech. The government offers Pfizer boosters to all adults.
Months of apprehension gave way to unburdened excitement. Encouraged by widespread inoculation and record mortgage rates, more properties were sold in Dubai in November than in any other month in the past eight years, according to the Property Finder website.
Selling prices have exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Until June, prices climbed 2.5% over one month, with crazy appreciations in the luxury segment.
Market analysts attributed the streak to a pause in villa construction and an influx of Western European, Chinese and Indian financiers drawn to Dubai’s scintillating open offices, high vaccination and low tax rates. .
A giant cryptocurrency conference in October drew dozens of young millionaires who prepaid cash for beach villas, estate agents said.
“You can go to a restaurant. There is no debate on teleworking. This is not the case in Europe where it is still blocked, ”said Christophe De Rassenfosse, Product Manager of Property Finder, explaining why he had moved his family from Brussels to Dubai in October. “You don’t necessarily have a huge percentage of seniors occupying hospitals. “
The government has promoted plans to make the sheikh more attractive to foreign investors and visitors, with new 10-year visas, retirement and self-employment options, and reforms to the country’s Islamic legal code.
In their latest move as competition intensifies with neighboring Saudi Arabia, the UAE will change its work week from Sunday to Thursday to Monday to Friday to align with the West.
The rebound is noticeable in crowded city hotels, clogged roads and noisy nightclubs.
Hotel occupancy rates in Dubai topped 90% in mid-November, according to data company STR. Long-haul carrier Emirates has estimated that more than 1.1 million passengers will pass through its Dubai terminal before the holidays.
Traffic in the first week of December topped 2019 levels, according to navigation company TomTom. Taxis have disappeared from many street corners, with fleet owners scaling back operations during the pandemic citing shortages amid “unprecedented” demand.
Global alcohol sales by volume in the United Arab Emirates reached 117.5 million liters (31 million gallons) this year, up 7.8% from the previous year, according to market research firm Euromonitor .
The growth even extended to doing business with the UAE’s longtime rivals – Turkey and Iran.
Politics had poisoned trade between the powers in recent years. But in a recent wave of diplomacy across the Middle East, the UAE postman’s chief met with the Turkish president in Ankara, and a senior UAE national security adviser visited Tehran.
From March to September 2021, Iranian imports from the United Arab Emirates climbed 70% to $ 5.4 billion, according to figures from the Iranian government. Emirati imports will reach unprecedented levels since the United States imposed crushing sanctions on Iran in 2018 by the end of the year.
Trade between the UAE and Turkey also jumped more than 100% to reach $ 7.2 billion in the first half of this year, the official UAE news agency WAM reported.
Iranian and Turkish business leaders in Dubai say detente eased restrictions on their licenses and visas.
Turkish business expert Fatma Nilgun Emrem of Tamimi Consulting has been inundated with inquiries from Turkish beauty salons, retailers and restaurants seeking to relocate to Dubai.
“The policies and outlook for the UAE are changing,” she said.
Iran-UAE Business Council board member Hossein Asrar Haghighi also described “relaxation” of trade regulations on Iranians and growing number of Iranian businessmen who have been granted golden visas 10 years from UAE.
“The combination of Dubai’s exit from COVID, the reduction in regional tensions and new measures to attract business, it’s a pretty good environment,” said Gregory Gause, the region’s scholar at Texas A&M University. “But Dubai doesn’t control what’s going on around it.”
A failure of ongoing talks in Vienna to revive the Tehran nuclear deal could escalate tensions in the Middle East. When the World’s Fair packs its bags and leaves Dubai next year, industries could suffer from overcapacity, warned James Swanston, an economist at Capital Economics.
And the rapid spread of omicron could ruin the Dubai party soon.
But for now, optimism reigns.
“The money has returned,” said Saeed Zakari, a Dubai Creek captain who plies the Persian Gulf in a dhow full of aircraft bound for Iran.
Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.