(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Residents in the UAE are turning the phrase "fear of the unknown" on its head, as the country is witnessing a new trend when it comes to the holidaymaker's destination of choice.
According to some travel sites and airlines used by UAE residents - including wego.com, Emirates Airlines, Flydubai, and Deira Travel and Tourist Agency - Central Asia and Eastern Europe are proving to be the alternative destinations of choice for many keen travelers today. Although travel advisories and warnings from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) have influenced many of these choices, price has also played a part in this increase of air traffic to pastures new. "In the last two years, airline prices have changed a lot," Emirati national, Mohammed Yousuf Al Shaibani told Khaleej Times. "If we want to travel, we need an airline, so we have no choice but to pay these rising prices for certain destinations. I think this has influenced this change in destinations. People are looking for more affordable options." In recent years, Dean Wicks, Chief Flights Officer of Wego.com, told Khaleej Times that it has seen more interest in Asia, especially resort destinations such as Thailand and Malaysia, when it comes to UAE travellers. "The median cost of airfares (from highest to lowest) to the US is $1,900, to Europe $992, to Africa $864, and to Asia $645. With flights becoming more affordable to Asia, it's understandable that family holidays to the region are becoming more popular." For family man Al Shaibani, lower costs are his driving force when it comes to holidaying abroad. He said his preferred airline of choice is now charging about Dh13,000 for a Business Class return flight to London. "But when I checked with a lesser known airline, that price dropped down to Dh8,000 which is fair. Certain airlines are charging far too much." Popular destinations for 2016 Emirates Airlines - London, Los Angeles, Bangkok, Cairo, Beirut Fly Dubai - Bratislava, Bucharest, Prague, Sofia, Central Asia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Deira Travel and Tourist Agency - Georgia, Thailand, Indonesia, Azerbaijan and India. From 2011 to 2014, Al Shaibani said Western Europe was a regular holidaying spot for him and his family, with London, Spain and Norway topping his list. But he admits the recent security alerts in Europe, as well as rising airline prices, has stopped him travelling there for now. "I want to go on holiday to relax, not be on edge. For me, I am first swayed by price, but the security warnings in a country play a big part too." For Emirati, Ahmed Mufta, money-hungry airlines are to blame for this new trend. "Nowadays it's so hard to go on holiday from Dubai due to the greedy airlines. Dubai is so hot in the summer and people will do anything to get away for a few weeks, I think airlines take advantage of this." Talking about his brother's family, he said they vacation to the same spot every year. However this year he has had to fork out double the price for four tickets (Dh30,000), compared to last year's Dh15,000. But like many, Mufta said the recent threat of attacks has made him re-think where to holiday to next. Preferred destinations Fardan MH works as the Operations Manager for Deira Travel and Tourist Agency in Dubai. Since January this year, his company has noticed a huge change in flight bookings. "This is mainly due to security reasons. People within this region now prefer destinations such as Georgia, Thailand, Indonesia, Azerbaijan and India." And he said bookings to destinations such as Turkey, Belgium, and France have decreased. "This shift is due to the recent unfortunate incidents which has taken various lives." Connecting flights With price regularly being flagged as the main reason for steering away from popular destinations like Western Europe and the US, are more travellers opting to take connecting flights? According to the Wego.com database, the majority of travellers shopping for flights prefer to go direct, with a ratio of 7:2 opting for a non-stop ticket. More than 70 per cent of Flydubai's passenger flow is point-to-point traffic. And although Deira Travel and Tourist Agency has seen a slight increase in the number of passengers choosing connecting flights to save costs, the majority still book direct routes. Interestingly, despite the MoFA's active warning status on some previously popular destinations, namely Lebanon, Beirut still appears on the Top 10 list of destinations for Emirates Airlines and Wego.com travellers. University of Sharjah student, Futoon Sameer, was a frequent traveller to Lebanon. But due to the ongoing troubles and the recent attacks being witnessed around the world, she admits she is now avoiding certain destinations. "I am avoiding going to places that are under attack right now, in the Middle East and in Europe. Price isn't an issue for me, but until everything settles down, only then will I visit these places again." Travel still popular Whether it is down to price, safety or both, the UAE's biggest travel sites and carriers are undoubtedly seeing a shift in travel destination trends here. And Dubai's low-cost airline, Flydubai, has been privy to this increase in demand. A spokesperson for the airline told Khaleej Times that its passengers are "keener than ever to try out some of the more off the beaten track destinations in Eastern Europe including Bratislava, Bucharest, Prague, Sarajevo, Sofia and Zagreb". "This has been aided by simplified visa processes and lower barriers to travel." Like Emirtaes Airlines, Wego.com and Deira Travel and Tourist Agency, Central Asia tops the favourite destinations list. "It has proven to be a popular geographic region attracting more UAE nationals. We have also witnessed an increasing influx of passengers travelling to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia too." Travel in general is becoming more accessible to more people in this region. As low-cost UAE carriers begin to open up underserved markets, they are creating free flows of trade and tourism with countries that had no or very few direct links with the UAE. Coupled with high quality service and more affordable, closer-to-home travel options, UAE nationals are now at the forefront when it comes to accessibility to travel. But only time will tell if prices change for the better. Kelly Clarke Originally from the UK, Kelly Clarke joined Khaleej Times in November 2012 as a reporter. She has a keen interest in humanitarian issues and loves to champion the efforts of local residents, companies in offering aid and development assistance to both local and region-wide causes. She works mainly within the healthcare beat but regularly produces human interest features. In her spare to she loves to travel and regularly volunteers at Riding for the Disabled in Dubai. Kelly received her BA Honours in Journalism from Middlesex University, UK in 2008. Before joining Khaleej Times she worked as a Supervising Editor for three Healthcare titles in London. KellyAnn_Clarke