Friday, November 27, 2020

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My Dubai Experience

Gabriella Ribeiro Truman of Trumarketing recently left the country for the first time in a while.

Here she shares what she experienced on her latest trip to Dubai. She was pleasantly surprised by her experience, and proves that travel during Covid-19 is possible, and enjoyable.

 

PREFLIGHT

I’ve been out of circulation as far as airports go for a while now. My last visit was in June. and between then and now, I’ve seen changes. June was scarily empty at EWR. This time, there was heavier traffic, although it was not crowded. There were minimal lines at security and I found myself a bit less worried about touching bins, and placing my items on the belt. I do think it’s important to continue to wipe everything down. I packed a ton of wipes, and kept sanitizer readily available in my pocket. Really, those were staples throughout every leg of the journey.

 

Many more airport shops and food outlets were open, which was great! It wasn’t as limited as the last time, which was encouraging and notable. Lounges were a different story. Food is minimal at best, most of it is shrink wrapped as opposed to the large selection and buffets in the past. There still is bar service, and self serve machines for coffee and sodas. There are plenty of markers to remind you about social distancing between tables. Boarding was orderly, socially distant and went swiftly.

 

IN FLIGHT

Much like my last flight, I felt entirely comfortable. Masks are enforced and honestly, it’s not that bad. I was facing two very long flights with an extremely long transfer time in between but really, you wind up doing your own thing. You talk to your travel partner, you work, you watch movies, you sleep, you just do it with a mask on and it becomes something you don’t notice. 

 

Food service on board. has ENTIRELY changed. I suggest that if you are hungry or even anticipate being hungry, get something before your flight and bring it on board. Tickets are still expensive and the flight attendants try so hard, but it’s just not what it once was. Meals are rushed, trays are given all at the same time so they can take them away as soon as possible and passengers can put their masks back on. Beverages are not always plentiful. They cannot open any drinks for you so you’re served the whole can, so that’s a little different. Nothing on the meal is opened before you receive it. Everything is covered in foil or shrink wrap. This is a small price to pay for being able to be back up in the skies. 

 

TRANSIT/CONNECTIONS/FORMS

Americans aren’t permitted into most of Europe so I had no idea how this aspect of travel was going to work. 

 

Staff was highly concerned about social distancing when leaving the plane so they called row numbers to get up, which was fine. But, when we got to the airbus, no jetway was available. There, we were packed like sardines and there was absolutely zero distancing – so that was that. But, whoever was on the plane had already proven that they were Covid negative, giving a heightened sense of security. Note that is not the case with domestic flights. 

 

Dubai was our final destination, and they require a negative COVID test within 96 hours of arrival so we had that sorted. But what about the procedure in Germany? It was a bit unclear. They gave us exhaustive paperwork to fill out on the EWR/FRA flight, however, upon landing, there was nothing to pass through. Nobody asked for any forms whatsoever and we just proceeded straight to the lounge. We connected through Frankfurt and the Lufthansa lounge was great. There was a selection of hot food being served, but the rest was self service- pretzels, chips, nuts, snacks, full range of coffees and beverages. The spa and showers were open as well, and extremely well looked after with full sanitization procedures in place.

 

With regard to your COVID tests, two things are critical beyond a negative result: PRINT IT OUT and BE SURE IT’S IN ENGLISH. When it came time to board the FRA/DXB flight, it was pure mayhem. At the gate where they were doing document checks, there was a lot of yelling, screaming, demanding, fuming…the poor people behind the counters were about to lose it. There were many people at the gate with the test on their phone or their laptop (no hard copies), some folks were from France and had it in French. Some were trying to get into a lounge to get it printed, others were making all sorts of calls back home to ask people to help. This caused our flight to be quite delayed.

 

On the flight from FRA to DXB, we were given a ton more paperwork with repetitive questions, but upon landing, again, nobody asked for them. It could have just been the time of day (it was 1:30 AM). The COVID test printout was crucial and that was reviewed.

 

TRANSPORT

We had our DMC pick us up at the airport (Equifax Tourism was WONDERFUL!) and the vehicle was spotless, equipped with plenty of extra masks, sanitizer, and wipes. The driver wore a mask, as did we. It was seamless, and throughout the trip, any mode of transport was at the same level.

 

HOTELS

This was one of the parts of the journey I was most interested in as far as the guest experience. The formula for flights is fairly simple, but hotels are a different story. Their character, personality, and warmth are now mixed in with hyper-sanitization, so I worried that it might feel clinical. But, this experience was stellar. Home base for us this time was the Armani Hotel, which is set in the iconic Burj Khalifa. There were sanitizer stations everywhere, but discreetly, so it didn’t feel clinical. At elevators, restaurants, lobby areas, lounges, and on each floor. Great care was taken to ensure things were clean – even down to things like pens, and bottled water on demand. Even the Nespresso machine was polished each day, as some mornings I would notice my fingerprints and they’d be gone by the time I got back to the room in the afternoon.

 

The pool area was also spotless, set up for social distancing, as was the gym. Temperatures were taken, and capacity was controlled here, as well as in the spa. I was wondering how the breakfast buffet would be handled, because that’s one of my favorite parts of the experience. It’s different, truthfully. The restaurant serving breakfast here is stunning with high ceilings, oversized tables, and there were a few stations set up for browsing – but you were not able to touch a thing. Not even a plate. There are people to serve you, so you simply just point and hold your hand out for the plate to be customized. This is accompanied by a hot and cold menu that you can select from (scanned via QR code through your phone). You still can get anything you like, and as much as you like, but it all has to be requested and absolutely nothing is self serve.

 

In Dubai, people are absolutely living their lives, respectful of health precautions and it was impressive to see. Malls are open, and people are roaming around freely, yet in compliance. In most places such as malls, airports, and hotels, there are temperature scanners set up on tripods that add another layer of security. You see everyone in a mask, people are frequently sanitizing their hands – it is readily available everywhere, even on the desert experiences.

 

ACTIVITIES/EXPERIENCES

Everything on the experience side had the highest health protocols and standards in place, from the vehicles, to electronics used for signatures, etc. We did a seaplane adventure and everyone’s temperature was scanned, the plane was highly sanitized and they also required everyone to wear gloves.

 

We did a hot air balloon safari and though there were 20 people on the balloon, there were plastic dividers for each basket, temperature checks, and masks were enforced. There were fewer people per vehicle and socially distant seating for breakfast in the desert, where again food was served to you upon your request. .

 

Restaurants don’t use physical menus by and large, opting rather for iPads that they clean frequently, or QR codes you can scan with your phone. Most of the restaurants and cafes we went to also had bottles of sanitizer and boxes of wipes on each table for guests.

 

RETESTING

We decided to get a Covid test in Dubai just in case – of course we first wanted to be sure we were OK up to that point, but also with the rules changing as rapidly as they tend to do these days, it felt like a responsible thing to do. In Dubai it was so swift! Our DMC knew exactly where to bring us, it took less than 5 minutes and they emailed the results to us less than 12 hours later. That added a bit more security for us for the journey home.

 

OVERALL

It was an amazing trip. I haven’t been out of the country since January and this world has been turned on its head since then. Is it weird? Yes, a little. Is it different? Of course, parts of it are strange and it’s easy to get a little frustrated with so many moving parts and so much thought put into your every move (wiping seats, tables, common areas, being mindful not to touch anything.). Honestly, it’s all a very little price to pay for being able to see the world again. It didn’t diminish my excitement and happiness, and we wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Dubai is brilliant and a true example of how things can get back to as normal as possible, given the circumstances.

 

Gabriella Ribeiro is the President/Owner of TRUMARKETING, an innovative boutique sales and marketing firm where she utilizes her expertise and contacts in both travel and the media to her clients’ advantage.  The firm represents tourist boards, destination management companies and hotel partners around the world, and is dedicated to bringing each partner creative solutions and increased distribution channels.

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