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2024 Ramadan Tourism Sees Travel Bump, But What Is It Like For Tourists?

2024 Ramadan Tourism Sees Travel Bump, But What Is It Like For Tourists?

This year, travel during the Ramadan holy month saw record growth numbers. The Muslim holy month does not maintain the same date each year. Instead, it shifts forward around ten days every year based on the moon cycle. This year, it happens to coincide with school spring break vacation. As a result, Middle Eastern destinations saw record growth, according to a report by

Abu Dhabi skyline with Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental in the foreground

Traditionally, the high season for the Arabian Gulf is between November and May when temperatures are at more tolerable levels. This is when tourists from Europe, Asia and North America flock to the region for warm weather, beautiful resorts and easy stopovers en route to other destinations.

This year, both domestic and international tourism has spurned momentum in both the hospitality and retail sectors, say experts. Ramadan runs from around March 10 to April 9, and it also coincides with the Easter holiday. This has helped hotels, resorts and airlines stay busy all month.

A fun stopover and cultural destination

Etihad Airways business class lounge in the new Zayed International Airport Terminal A in Abu Dhabi

Partnerships from major North American airlines and their loyalty programs help feed business to airlines based in the Gulf. Whether passengers are redeeming miles for their flights or booking codeshare travel, being aware of when the Ramadan holy month takes place has often been a question for flyers.

Message forums like Flyertalk and Reddit are full of discussion about how the experience may be curtailed if traveling during Ramadan. While that may have been true in the past, things are changing. In the past few years, traveling during Ramadan no longer represents a cutback in the normal expectations for Western travelers both at the airport, in airline lounges, in the air and at the destination.

Airlines that offer stopover programs with hotels and tours continue to offer the same perks during Ramadan.

Women visit Qasr Al Watan palace

According to Wafa Kanan, editor of ALO magazine, a Middle Eastern lifestyle publication, and a frequent traveler to the Middle East, traveling during Ramadan offers unique insight into the local culture.

“People often ask if Ramadan is a good time to visit or if their travel will be restricted,” says Kanan. “But, the reality is that it is a special time to visit with fewer restrictions than many people think, especially as many cities become more progressive.”

What and when is Ramadan?

Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the largest in the United Arab Emirates

It takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which represents a time for togetherness, charity and prayer for Muslims, says Kanan. Fasting during the daytime  culminates in the opportunity to eat once dusk falls, and this is when many lavish buffets or food presentations take place at popular hotels and restaurants (or private homes). This is one of the reasons that many travelers enjoy visiting during Ramadan.

What can visitors expect when traveling during Ramadan?

In years past, Ramadan was a period when people were not allowed to eat or drink in public. Restaurants that remained open had their windows covered so as not to offend those that were fasting. Hours for shops and public sights were curtailed while public activities and even school life saw shortened hours.

Visitors enjoy Yas Waterworld Water Park in Abu Dhabi

Foreign tourists who were not following Muslim practices still had to follow these customs. Things are changing in most major progressive cities like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha. Now, visitors can eat and drink in traditional restaurants. They can enjoy hotel and resort facilities. They can wear normal bathing suits at the beach or pool and visit popular tourist sights. In recent years, all of these things have changed to cater to international norms. Of course, deference to local custom is still appreciated when around locals.

Another perk of visiting during this period is that many area attractions and tourist spots may be less busy during the daytime when locals may be fasting. At night, things spring to life with shopping malls, restaurants and popular venues much busier. Special activities at hotels can include everything from special family programming to Ramadan-themed walking tours.

What do airlines do differently?

A special menu of dishes served on Etihad Airways in business class for iftar dinner

This is probably one area where many travelers noticed a difference in the inflight service. Many Gulf airlines curtailed their pre-departure and lounge beverage programs. Some would not offer wine, cocktails or beer at all, but others would provide it without being poured at the seat. This has slowly changed, too, with carriers operating as normal without any restrictions, which is something Flyertalk posters appreciate.

An economy class takeaway meal box for iftar

Etihad Airways and Emirates are among the many carriers to offer takeaway iftar meals for passengers who are fasting during a daytime flight. Instead, they can request a takeaway box or bagged meal to enjoy when they are able.

“Ramadan holds a special place in our hearts, it’s a time to reflect and to spread kindness,” says Turky Al Hammadi, head of product and hospitality, Etihad Airways. “We are committed to sharing these Ramadan values across all touch points of our guests’ journey, starting from our lounges to onboard experiences.”

Even if you are just passing through, travelers can find several Ramadan refreshments on offer in premium lounges and on board. These include traditional iftar beverages like laban (a yogurt-based drink), date milk, cucumber refresher and rose milk.

Airlines also offer special Ramadan programming on their inflight entertainment systems as well as make special announcements using a tool that explains when passengers can start or end their fasting based on the aircraft’s latitude and longitude.

What kind of experiences can you expect?

One of the best parts of visiting during Ramadan, says Kanan, is experiencing the iftar dinners at various hotels and restaurants. These elaborate buffets are packed with all kinds of local food, but also have become more creative over the years. The presentation is second to none, says Kanan. It is just as common to see people Instagramming chocolate fountains and frozen yogurt machines with fireworks shows in the background as it is to see someone traditionally dressed with their extended family. For tourists, these iftar dinners are a great way to try different foods.

Iftar dinner with the lions at Al Ain Zoo.

These exotic iftar dinners take place at hotels and restaurants. Fact magazine has a long list of top hotels in Abu Dhabi worth exploring. Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental builds a luxury tent along the private beachfront that it calls the Majilis by the Sea. There, guests enjoy elegant dinners and fireworks shows. There are also sunset tours from Al Ain Safari that end with an iftar dinner with the lions. Another is an “eat and feed” iftar dinner with the animals at Emirates Park Zoo & Resort in Abu Dhabi.

Iftar with the animals at Emirates Park Zoo & Resort in Abu Dhabi

Other unique opportunities include enjoying an iftar dinner at Fouquet’s Abu Dhabi set up within the walls of the famous Louvre museum. There’s an iftar on the beach at Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas. There’s also an iftar within the desert at the base of the Jebel Hafeet mountain in a national park. There, guests also have the option to overnight in one of the glamping tents afterwards.

A boat in front of the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, which also has its own iftar experience

Beyond dining, tourist attractions remain open, and sometimes have extended hours to cater to those fasting during the daytime. For example, Abu Dhabi’s main attractions all remain open. These include Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (the largest in the United Arab Emirates), the Louvre Museum and amusement parks like Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi and Ferrari World Yas Island.

Promotions and deals are common during Ramadan

Kanan says Ramadan deals are another great reason to visit because hotels offer special packages and promotions. The perception that Ramadan will restrict what you can do as a tourist, says Kanan, is old news.

“Travelers looking to go beyond the routine can experience a more immersive look into local culture,” she says. “You will learn a lot, and best of all, eat well. Who doesn’t love that?”