The proposed unified tourism visa system for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — was unanimously accepted, ushering in a new era in the critically important economic sector.
The GCC Secretary General Jassim Al Budaiwi announced the system, which is expected to come into effect between 2024 to 2025 across the six-nation bloc, on November 9 (Thursday) at the 40th meeting of GCC interior ministers in Oman.
He said that the decision is expected to streamline travel logistics and underpin the “continuous communication and coordination” between the GCC states, The National reported.
“The unified Gulf tourist visa is a project that will contribute to facilitating and streamlining the movement of residents and tourists between the six GCC countries and will, undoubtedly, have a positive [impact] on the economic and tourist sectors,” Al Budaiwi said.
In order to “contribute to the fight against [its] scourge,” Al Budaiwi stated, the council has also approved the electronic linking of traffic offences between GCC states and is currently developing a comprehensive strategy to combat illegal narcotics.
Recently, UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq highlighted the unified visa as a key component of the GCC 2030 tourism strategy, aiming to boost the sector’s economic contribution through increased regional travel and higher hotel occupancy rates.
The UAE aims to increase its visitor count to 128.7 million by 2030, a 137% increase from the 39.8 million recorded in 2021.
The region’s total number of hotels reached 10,649 by the end of last year, a 1.2% growth from 2016. The UAE, with 1,114 hotels, ranks second in the region after Saudi Arabia, according to bin Touq.
According to HSBC, the Middle East’s tourism sector has experienced the strongest post-coronavirus rebound globally, with a “total recovery” in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2023, despite global economic challenges, particularly in the Arab economies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Industry operators predict a significant tourism programme in the GCC bloc, highlighting an untapped market due to visa restrictions, which have hindered travellers from reaching certain nations.
A single GCC tourism visa will be a “fantastic development” for tourism in the region, making it more attractive for visitors and businesses, Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths told The National last week.
“The more cities there are on the tourism map that encourages people to visit the Middle East, the better the world’s perception of the region,” Griffiths said.