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Wed 22 Dec 2010 03:42 PM

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UAE travel agents fight to weather European storms

Contingency teams in hotels, travel agents work ‘24/7’ to help stranded passengers

UAE travel agents fight to weather European storms
Europe has ground to a halt amid severe weather conditions that have snowed in runways at major airports

Bad weather in Western Europe, which forced Gulf carriers to cancel flights to London and left passengers stranded, has kicked UAE travel companies into overdrive as they struggle to rebook clients on alternate flights.

“We have a contingency team which has been pressed into work and working on a 24/7 basis. It’s disrupted our regular travelers,” said Sunil D’Souza, Kanoo’s country manager for the UAE and Oman. “Especially getting to the UK and Germany – they’re the worst affected. We have made extra flight arrangements but some clients have had to [entirely] postpone the travel.”

He said it had resulted in more business in the GCC, as stranded clients asked for hotel bookings, and that even clients stranded in transit in Europe had called asking for hotel arrangements.

Another prominent agent said he didn’t have time to speak today – he was busy getting tens of local clients rebooked on alternate routes into Europe and the UK.

The effort has been centered around flight rebooking, not hospitality, as the UAE’s surplus of hotel rooms means hotel managers barely registered any surges in occupancy.

“We haven't had too many cancellations, just a couple and these were guests on a leisure trip,” said Beth McIntyre, sales administrator, at the Fairmont Dubai. “However, many customers have been amending their bookings to travel to Dubai at a later date.”

She said the situation at the Fairmont Bab al Bahr in Abu Dhabi had been similar. 

“With [Dubai’s] inventory, you’ll still have hotels available even if all the flights are booked,” said Shibly Jowhershah, head of leisure and marketing for Al Naboodah.

“Naturally, we have encountered a few cancellations these days… however, not in a substantial amount where we got affected,” said a spokeswoman for the RadissonBlu, Dubai Deira Creek.

“We are receiving European and American guests daily now for the season – we are assuming that most of the guests coming from European routes to Dubai are managing and/or shifting around their routes from within Europe and managing to get to Dubai as per their plans.”

Jowershah said his business was only spared by his clients’ flight plans, which saw no one actually traveling to Europe on the days when Heathrow was shut.

 “Ours was mainly a last-moment market – they woke up last weekend and decided to go. So a lot of them opted to go within the region or were only able to book flights going eastwards,” he said.

“And some flew to Europe before the entire thing started. But I’ve heard of people being stranded from the US all the way down to Dubai.”

“We’ve seen this before, with the ash cloud,” D’Souza said, referring to volcanic Icelandic ash which stopped flights across Western Europe earlier this year. “But we are seeing the situation in Europe start to improve now.”

In the meantime, there is acceptance among disgruntled passengers.

“People who wanted to travel have postponed their travel, and they’re either moving into other markets or waiting it out,” he said.