Moving from the UK to the Middle East, it felt like I was stepping into an online travel time machine.
The Internet is still a medium in its infancy here. There is just one price-comparison website and only a couple of budget airlines. Paper travel documents are preferred to e-tickets.
But if you search hard enough, help is there for the web traveller.
The Emirates website, for example, is a breath of fresh air – a professional site amid a sea of clunky, badly designed airline home pages.
Booking a flight recently from Dubai to Birmingham was a breeze. The website is user-friendly and easy on the eye. Every bit as good as British Airways’ slick offering.
After entering my flight requirements and personal details online, I was phoned just hours later by a telesales operator, who arranged for the tickets to be delivered to my office by courier the next day.
Now that’s what I call service. Lastminute.com who?
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for some of the other regional airlines, some of which are still unable to process online payments.
These sites request you to go to the airline’s sales office to collect your tickets upon completing your online reservation. Lengthy queues are common, destroying the convenience of using the Internet in the first place.
But fear not. An oasis has emerged from the desert in the form of budget airline Air Arabia, which flies from Sharjah, a 30-minute drive from Dubai. It has even opened an Internet café cum sales office.
Meanwhile, Expedia.com still comes in handy for price comparisons. Even though prices are quoted in US dollars, it is hard to turn your back on such a reliable old friend.
Here, we also have Mytravelchannel.com, which searches a wide range of worldwide airlines to find you the best deal from your Middle Eastern city. It works well, and even has a Farewatcher feature that alerts you when your desired flight comes up at the right price.
It’s nowhere near as in-depth as my old friends’ Lastminute or Expedia (which I still use when booking hotels out here) but it’s a decent start.
Online travel in the United Arab Emirates
Mytravelchannel.com – this comprehensive travel portal, operated by Emirates Group’s eVentures division, enables users to search for the best deals from Middle Eastern cities.
Emirates.com – the website of Dubai’s carrier is as slick and professional as the airline itself. Easy to use and well designed.
Etihadairways.com – the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, based in Abu Dhabi, is growing fast. Its website now offers online booking.
Dnata.com – the website of the government-run air travel service provider provides information on everything from travel agents to freight cargo.
Dubaicityguide.com – a messy looking but useful guide to all things Dubai, including the latest hotel and restaurant promotions.
Airarabia.com – the Middle East’s first budget airline is offering cheap flights around the region, and to further flung destinations such as Moscow and Sri Lanka.
Richard Abbott moved to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in May 2005. He is deputy editor of Campaign Middle East, a weekly magazine for the advertising industry.