Abu Dhabi denies vaccine tourism plan

Abu Dhabi has denied that it planned to launch vaccine tourism as a way to kick-start wellness and medical tourism.

UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, was reported to be offering coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and China’s Sinopharm to tourists, in a move to help attract visitors from countries that have supply constraints.

The government has now stated that a misunderstanding of the sheikhdom’s health care provider Seha’s phone application is to blame. Reports that vaccines were to be available for holders of a visa issued by Abu Dhabi and holders of passports eligible for visa on arrival have now been denied. It now states vaccines are only available to Abu Dhabi residents and citizens.

It may have been a misunderstanding or a U-turn, following negative comments on vaccine tourism and a similar experience faced in Dubai a few months ago. The incentive of the vaccine would be appealing to wealthier travellers from countries where the vaccine is not easily available yet.

Abu Dhabi has spent much time and money in an attempt to match the success in medical and health tourism of neighbour Dubai.  How much vaccine tourism would have worked in increasing tourism, health tourism and medical tourism is very uncertain.

Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee issued a reminder that free Covid-19 vaccines are available to everyone with an expired residency visa or expired entry visa, which does not include holders of valid tourist or visit visas.

The government has encouraged Abu Dhabi investors to develop wellness or medical tourism destinations in or around Abu Dhabi in the last few years.  So far, investors have seen little or no return.

Abu Dhabi is currently difficult to access for many tourists who need to quarantine on arrival, although it lifted mandatory quarantine measures on travellers from an approved list of countries from July 1. For many countries, including most of Europe, travellers may have to quarantine on return, as the UAE is still on red lists.

The UAE federation boasts among the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world, with 14.6 million doses administered to its population of 9 million. It has relied heavily on China’s state-backed Sinopharm and started manufacturing Sinopharm earlier this year. Abu Dhabi and Dubai also offer the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, and since March, everyone over age 16 in the states has been eligible to get vaccinated.