As Qantas moves ahead with its plans to eliminate stopovers on long-haul flights, other airlines are offering passengers significant discounts in an attempt to lure them into pausing their travels.
Offers include free luxury hotel stays, free domestic flights and exclusive rates on city tours and activities.
The airline Etihad Airways from the United Arab Emirates is the latest to restart its stopover program in time for the busy northern hemisphere summer time.
Deals for Australian travelers include discounts of 40 percent on Abu Dhabi hotels, including five-star properties, and free stays at some three- and four-star hotels.
The airline also offers a “Transit Connect” stopover option, which allows guests with a transit time between 10 and 24 hours to book a free hotel near the international airport.
Emirates, an airline based in the United Arab Emirates, launched its stopover programme, Dubai Experience, in April and has seen a significant increase in the number of passengers opting for short breaks, according to Barry Brown, the airline’s divisional vice president for Australasia
“In May, the number of Dubai visitors increased by 40 percent compared to April,” he said.
Stopover benefits include discounts on more than 200 activities across the city, savings of up to 10% on flights and access to benefits from over 100 hotels in Dubai including discounted stays, free cancellation, free breakfast and 24-hour Check in.
So far, the program has attracted 130,000 Emirates passengers to stopover in Dubai.
“The numbers are steadily increasing — from 4 percent in April to 5 percent in May and 6 percent in June,” Brown noted. “About 50 percent of our stopover passengers stayed in Dubai for three to four days.”
The Layover Perks
Numbers show how stopovers can play an important role in tourism’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett announced this week that stopovers have generated $1.5 billion ($2.2 billion) for the Caribbean nation’s economy after welcoming more than 1 million stopover visitors since January.
“June  surpassed [June] Indeed, 2019 is the first month of the year since the recovery began that we have actually outperformed the comparable month in the two-and-a-half years of the pandemic,” said Bartlett.
Given the economic benefits, it’s no coincidence that many of the airlines championing stopovers are government-owned, including Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.
Brown said his Dubai Experience stopover program is on track to give the region a major financial boost.
“Based on the monthly growth we’re seeing and the fact that our peak tourist season is after summer, the program aims to make a significant contribution to the city’s tourism,” Brown said. “Our steady stopover volume over the last three months confirms this.”
according to dr Moira Junge, CEO of the Sleep Health Foundation, says a stopover may also have additional wellness benefits for some.
“If you’re in fairly poor health or are prone to extremely severe jet lag, the layover would help minimize effects such as trouble sleeping, daytime sleepiness, impaired physical performance or gastrointestinal issues,” Junge said.
The distance between your last stop is also crucial to whether you’re likely to reap any wellness benefits from your stopover.
“You want to be as close to your goal as possible. When you go to London, you want your stopover to be Dubai, as opposed to Singapore,” Junge adds.
A side effect of a layover is that you’re less likely to miss your connection – something that’s becoming increasingly common as airlines around the world struggle with staff shortages that lead to delays and cancellations.
Dean Long, CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, said flight cancellations have become the norm.
“In the past, international flight capacity averaged 80 percent. Now it’s about 95 percent, which means there’s only five percent flexibility if a flight is canceled or a connection is missed,” Long said.
“When we can find replacement fares, those fares typically cost double and triple the original cost due to very limited availability and price increases.”
Meanwhile, Qantas is pushing ahead with Project Sunrise – a plan to fly non-stop from Australia’s east coast to London and New York.
In launching the non-stop Perth-to-Rome service last month, Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said Qantas’ own research had shown that passengers prefer to fly non-stop after COVID-19 en route to their final destination to fly.
“We are seeing an increasing preference for non-stop flights to and from Australia to make the travel experience as efficient and easy as possible, and we expect this to permanently change the way people want to travel,” he said .
SHOWSTOPPERS: FIVE OF THE BEST STOPOVER DEALS FROM AUSTRALIA
Stopover offers on flights booked from Australia to selected international destinations. Conditions apply, see websites.