I just flew to Dubai from Dar es Salaam last week with my wife and two young kids in tow. The busiest airport in the world seems to be regaining some of the 70% drop in passenger numbers it suffered last year. Our flight from Tanzania was pretty full. I expect that was partly because of the Easter weekend.
Nowadays, international travel is thought of by many as risky and/or luxurious because of this global pandemic. It’s almost like we’ve gone back in time to 30 or 40 years ago, when travel was for well-heeled tourists or business people only.
For people living in the more conservative “Covid elimination strategy” countries or states, it may be uncommon knowledge that international travel does still happen and is a normal part of life in other parts of the world.
Check out how many planes are flying at any one time:
I’m no expert on “travelling through this pandemic,” but I’ve done a few trips myself: moving out of Bali to Tanzania; visiting our neighboring country, Kenya; and now venturing off to the Middle East.
Dubai is one of the more forward-thinking places on earth during these times. There are no specific numbers for Covid cases in Dubai alone, but the entire United Arab Emirates (UAE) reports approximately 2,000 new cases a day currently. Now compare that to Australia where a 3-day lockdown was recently imposed in Brisbane because of… not 1,000… not 100… not even 10, BUT FOUR new cases of the “UK variant” of the virus. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s just extreme.
While they haven’t officially said so, Australia (along with New Zealand) clearly has a Covid eradication strategy. I just don’t see how that’s possible, if they ever want to go back to living in an interconnected world again. Still, if the majority of Aussies support that, who am I to argue?
People in the UAE, on the other hand, go about their day as pretty much usual because the country recognizes that they have a 96.8% recovery rate for Covid cases here. Making people wear masks other than when exercising outdoors alone, eating or drinking, or at home with their immediate family, and making restaurants and other venues operate at reduced capacity with social distancing measures in place are the only real changes that are noticeable here. And you can’t sit in the front seat in a taxi.
Travel and tourism is a huge part of the GDP, so the government had little choice but to get back to normal—not to mention revenues from oil and gas consumption, which is an even bigger contributor. So, it only makes sense to keep the borders open.
The Covid testing — both in the days prior to departure, and again on arrival in Dubai — were a real drag.
One of the requirements for travelers to the UAE from a long list of countries is to present a negative PCR Covid test taken no more than 72 hours before leaving the country. It’s also mandatory to take a test again upon landing at Dubai Airport for travelers originating in a whole host of countries.
How they choose these countries is a mystery to me. For example, the US, with 60,000 daily cases is not on the list; while Rwanda, with its 150 cases a day, is. If you travel from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong etc., you are spared the test on arrival.
In Tanzania we paid US$340 all up for government laboratory fees and clinic fees. (Just for two adults). Upon arrival in Dubai, we were asked to take another test, which was fortunately free of charge. Note that Dubai exempts children under 12 years old, or anyone with a disability from having to take Covid tests.
Upon landing, when walking through the airport concourse, various Covid testing areas have been set up. The procedure is fairly fast and efficient. They take a scan of your passport and your mobile number. You then proceed through immigration, collect your bags and head to your hotel or other accommodation.
You are required to wait in your room until they send you a text message, or upload your result to the UAE government Health Department App.
We were tested about 10pm, and had results back the next day around 2pm. They say it can take up to 48 hours, however. Once you have a negative test certificate, you can go about your normal business. However, no one has ever asked to see my certificate, and there was no one checking up on me or tracking my movements between the time I landed and the time I got a negative test result back. So, I suppose there are some loopholes open to abuse by some individuals. But, most people do the right thing.
In the event you return a positive result, you are required to self-isolate in your accommodation for 10 days. Note, that is also less than the 14, or even 21 days that many countries still stick by. If you are here on a shorter visit, I guess a positive test means you get stuck and your plans get thrown into disarray. Personally we plan to stay two weeks. So, it was never an issue.
You may also find it useful to know that all tickets purchased through Emirates Airlines come automatically bundled with travel / health insurance to cover Covid risks. I’m not sure of the fine print, but this seems a great idea. They have the buying power with the insurance companies that individual travelers do not. And it means travelers unfortunate enough to return a positive Covid test upon arrival in Dubai can get help to cover the extra costs of accommodation, and medical treatment where applicable.
I am here to do some shopping, run some errands, do some banking, and, most importantly, meet with the senior management team of one Dubai-based company I am considering an investment in for my African Lions Fund. The company operates all over Africa.
I will also be meeting with Dubai-based investors and prospects for the African Lions Fund. So, it’s a worthwhile trip.
Given the Covid-related restrictions in place in many parts of the world, I feel fortunate to be living in Tanzania, but it’s nice to have a change of atmosphere now and then. There’s a big contrast coming from a slow-paced developing country with dirt roads and greenery to an ultra-fast developing one built on a salt pan on the edge of the desert.
Dubai is a fascinating place, and the contrast between old and new is striking. It’s also a city where people from many different parts of the world, from many different socio-economic backgrounds and income strata co-mingle and live side by side.
In the migrant worker neighbourhood I explored Sunday morning, there are people from all over the subcontinent, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, as well as many Filipinos, and some Africans. I walked around for about 90 minutes and didn’t see even one other person like me, of European appearance.
Prices were very reasonable. And the quality of goods and services and restaurant meals was fine. For a lamb biryani that we paid AED 65 for in an upscale restaurant two nights earlier, you could pay as little as AED 8 here. A cup of coffee that cost me AED 15 in the swanky Dubai Mall cost me AED 1 here. (Note: AED 3.6725 = USD 1)
These sorts of contrasts is what I find fascinating, and why I always, safety permitting, like to explore cities that I visit on foot, to see how the locals, or those who are making their living there, really live.
Yes, today’s column is more of a travelogue than an investment article. But I thought it important to update you all with some practical information, as I continue to travel and explore new parts of the world in the post-Covid age. After all, this is exactly what Global Value Hunter is all about. Finding the best deals across the globe, especially where few others look.
In Dubai at present, not only is it open and relatively normal, hotel rooms that used to cost $400 or $500 a night are available for a fraction of that. I have a luxury 2BR serviced apartment at one of the 5-star hotels along one of the main thoroughfares downtown, in the business district, for about $180 a night.
What about you? Have you been on an international trip in the past year? I’d love to hear about your experience and share it with our Global Value Hunter community through our Readers’ Say page.
Until next time,
Global Value Hunter
African Lions Fund