Rameshwar Nath stares at the white-and-ebony foyer of a five-star hotel above the calm turquoise waters of the Dubai Canal. Once brimming, the vast foyer—like the rest of the hotel—is now forlornly empty. For the past 15 years, Rameshwar has refurbished guest rooms, touched up nooks and crannies. The gussied-up hotel guests and the clatter of fine china still takes some getting used to for the 50-year-old painter from a village in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. “It was thanks to this job that I was able to feed my family back home and send my kids to school,” he says with pride.
Enter COVID-19: the tourism and hospitality sectors started feeling the heat as nations closed borders. Hotels that line the arterial Sheikh Zayed Road or the Jumeirah beachfront must wait out the pandemic before even trying to make their way back to the city. Some hotels have been converted into isolation facilities for the mildly symptomatic who don’t need critical care.