Abu Dhabi-based airline Rotana Jet has resumed chartered flights to the Socotra, helping to sow the seeds of a tourism economy in the beguiling Yemeni island.
The desert island, off the coast of war-torn Yemen, is considered to be a wonderland of sparkling clear blue beaches, rare ‘dragon blood’ trees, frankincense forests and mini cows.
The island has a population of 50,000 people, who speak a sing-song language incoherent to Arabic-speaking Yemenis.
Gulf airline Rotana Jet is running a twice-weekly service on Saturdays and Wednesdays from Abu Dhabi Terminal 2, said Adnan Abbas, a travel agent working for Al Ketbi Travel, a travel agent based in Abu Dhabi.
The two-hour flights are for regional, international, and medical tourists flying between Yemen and the UAE, he said.
Flights were launched on March 22, running bi-weekly until April 8, except for two cancellations, he said.
“After the April 8th flight cancellation, we stopped issuing tickets immediately,” Abbas said, at which point ticket sales were passed to Al Bader Exchange.
Tickets are currently being issued by the currency exchange firm—Dhs3,000 ($816) for a return flight and Dhs1,800 ($490) for one-way flights.
Al Bader confirmed to Inc. Arabia that the firm is selling tickets to Socotra and that passengers require a visa prior to making a travel booking.
No hotels but visas on arrival
However, Abbas said that tourists can purchase a visa on arrival. “For most flights, it’s visa on arrival for everyone. I think they’re charging $100 at Socotra airport,” Abbas said.
An embassy official in Abu Dhabi, however, advised travelers to apply at the Yemeni Consulate in Dubai or the Embassy in Abu Dhabi for a visa before they travel.
Abbas waived-off suggestions of a military presence or any security concerns, saying the island is the perfect destination for nature lovers.
“Socotra is totally peaceful, and there’s is no issue. Everything is okay…normal life. But the facilities for the tourist people, are not what they are expecting,” he said, adding that the island is likely to lure tourists who love the sea.
“A different kind of beauty is there,” abbas said.
In stark contrast to Dubai, there are no hotels in Socotra, but two or three buildings operating as guest houses, Abbas explained.
“Mostly people are going as tourists there. Most of the people are from South Africa, some from Russia,” Abbas said.
Abbas said many South African tourists travel to the island to collect the red-sap oozing from the island’s famous dragon blood trees, which is said to have powerful medicinal properties.
Abbas said that Al Ketbi was enlisted by the humanitarian arm of the UAE government, the Khalifa Foundation, to manage the flights and issue tickets for tourists.
According to him, the flights were primarily operated for the Khalifa Foundation to send humanitarian cargo to Socotra including food and medicine.
He added that money raised from the flight tickets will go to charity.
The Khalifa Foundation could not be reached for comment, but their humanitarian activities in Yemen, including sending plane loads of aid to Socotra, have been widely reported in the national press.