The month of Ramadan is starting shortly. Starting from May 15/16 through June 15, 2018, Muslims all over the world will be undertaking a fast from dawn to sunset. Some of you may be travelling to the Middle East during this time. A quick Google search will show you the general do’s and dont’s for Muslims and non-Muslims for Travel During Ramadan. However, there aren’t any specifically for business travellers or holiday-goers.
In the last few years, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been a little more flexible in their rules for hotels and restaurants. With every year, Ramadan falls closer to tourist season, and it was considered good faith to not hinder the hospitality industry too much in this peak time. However, as open as the Emirates may seem, following the traditional etiquette would be recommended. Here’s a little guide on what to expect.
Airports & Planes
Generally, there are no restrictions on food and alcohol in the airports. Some lounges may decide not to serve alcohol before sunset, but apart from that, it will serve food as normal. Airlines also do not have any such restrictions. In fact, last year, Emirates offered a special iftar service for those who were fasting on select flights. This was in addition to their normal meal service. This year, they will be providing iftar boxes for flight to and from the Gulf region and date boxes at boarding gates at Emirate’s Terminal 3 in Dubai . Duty-free will remain open as per usual.
Before travelling, you may want to check whether your preferred hotel has a Ramadan promotion. Over the last few years, many hotels across the UAE and the Middle East have encouraged guests to book by offering discounted rates during Ramadan for visitors. Some even have attractive staycation packages for residents.
In earlier years, restaurants would only be allowed to open after 7 pm. Since 2016, a number of restaurants and bars have been given the license to operate during the daytime. Hotel restaurants will be open for business as usual, and breakfast will be served to guests as usual. Most hotels will have a designated cordoned-off area where those not fasting can eat. For example, the Sheraton Grand Hotel, Dubai, will be covering a part of their restaurant so that guests can eat their lunch without disturbing those fasting.
Alcohol will mostly not be sold in hotels, restaurants or bars before sunset. After sunset, once the fast can be broken, alcohol will be available in the hotel restaurants and some bars till different times. It goes without saying that no alcohol will be served in the iftar tents or buffets.
If room service is more your thing, then you are in luck. Most of the hotels are happy to serve food and alcohol to your room at any time during the day. Just don’t leave your tray out in the hall once you are done! I would recommend keeping it in your room and calling room service to collect.
Pool & Gym
Most hotels pools are open during Ramadan without any restrictions. Regular swimwear is allowed, and some hotels will still serve food and alcohol during the day. However, it is asked that guests (both men and women) dress moderately while going to-and-from the pool/beach/gym/spa. You can drink water at the gym, but not once you leave or are walking back to your room.
If you have the opportunity to go to Iftar (the meal to break the fast after sunset), I highly recommend that you take it. The prices range from budget to fine dining, but all would be an experience not to be missed. Most hotels would have special iftar buffets or tents set up and may even have discounted rates for loyalty members. The Sheraton Grand Hotel, Dubai has an iftar buffet offer at 210 AED ($57) per person, and SPG members get 20% off that price. The Grand Hyatt also has an iftar offer for 210 AED ($57) per person including taxes.
Suhoor is the time before dawn when people can eat before starting their fast. Many hotels will have their restaurants open for the a la carte menu or a special Suhoor feast. For example, the Marriott Hotel Downtown, Abu Dhabi will have Suhoor from 8 pm to 2:30 am every night for Ramadan.
While in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, you can take advantage of some of the food delivery options like Deliveroo, Talabat, Uber Eats or Zomato. Many of them would also feature special Ramadan lunch offers or Iftar deals.
Malls & Supermarkets
Malls will generally be open later than usual over Ramadan. Food courts and mall restaurants may be cordoned-off to hide the food from those fasting. Food options may be limited at this time. To follow the general etiquette while in the Middle East, modest clothing should be worn. Also, eating, drinking, smoking and chewing gum in public is strictly not allowed during Ramadan.
Other things to remember during Ramadan:
- Working hours are shortened, so check company timings beforehand.
- Government offices are generally between 9 am and 2 pm during Ramadan.
- Be respectful of the rules against smoking and drinking in public.
- Only eat in the designated areas.
- Avoid demonstrative acts of affection in public
Have you been to the Middle East during Ramadan? What was your experience? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below.