Dubai (AFP)

After a four-month paralysis, Dubai is counting on the return of tourists to revive the sector, presenting itself as a safe destination, where everything is in place to protect visitors from the new coronavirus.

The emirate, which welcomed 16.7 million visitors last year, opened its doors to tourists despite global travel restrictions and scorching summer temperatures, hoping to see the sector rebound before peak season , which begins in the last quarter of 2020.

The first visitors arrived Tuesday on Emirates flights, where cabin crew are dressed in protective overalls and visors. They were greeted by temperature checks and virus tests.

Helal al-Marri, head of the Dubai tourism department, said tourists may still be reluctant to travel, but studies show they are actively seeking destinations.

"When you look at the indicators and compare (the tourists) who were trying to buy stays ten weeks, six weeks ago, with those of today, the situation turns out to be extremely different," AFP said. Mr. Marri.

"People were worried (but) today, they are really looking for their next destinations, which is a very positive sign and I see a strong return" of the holidays abroad, he adds. .

Crisis linked to new coronavirus has showered Dubai's hope of bringing the number of visitors to 20 million this year, and has forced Emirates, the largest airline in the Middle East, to reduce its sprawling network as well as remove an undisclosed number of jobs.

Unlike the global financial crisis of 2008, the consequences of which have taken several years to be absorbed, the current slowdown is a "shock" limited in time, assures Mr. Marri.

"As soon as we start talking about next year and beyond, we see a strong recovery. Because once things have returned to normal, people will start traveling again," he promises.

- New priorities -

The reopening of the United Arab Emirates comes while the seven Emirates that compose it - including Dubai - are still facing the Covid-19 disease, which has infected more than 53,500 people, 328 of whom have died.

Around the world, the new coronavirus has paralyzed the tourism industry. Those now ready to travel again have new priorities: the health situation in the country of destination is one of them, believes Mr. Marri.

With its advanced medical infrastructure, Dubai hopes to have all the cards on its side.

Tourists "(also) expect the airline to follow precautionary measures," as does the airport, he said.

According to him, tourists also check compliance with health regulations "in taxis, restaurants, shopping centers and on the beaches".

Tourists arriving in Dubai must present a negative test result for the new coronavirus, performed four days before the flight. They can also take the test upon arrival, but must isolate themselves while awaiting the result.

Although physical distancing and the wearing of masks are widely practiced, many restaurants and places of attractions multiply precautions with employees dressed in protective gear and menus replaced by QR codes.

But, says Marri, Dubai "has returned to pleasure." "As you can see, everything is open," he says.

© 2020 AFP