A single unified tourist visa system that would simplify travel within the GCC region and boost tourism across the Gulf states, is expected to be rolled out within the next two years, Abdulla bin Touq, UAE’s Minister of Economy has said.
The meeting of GCC tourism ministers held recently in Oman “unanimously" endorsed its introduction and this will be presented at the coming GCC summit, state news agency Wam reported on Monday.
“Specific regulations and legislation for the visa will be developed, with a targeted roll-out between 2024 and 2025, subject to the readiness of each GCC country's internal systems,” Mr bin Touq said.
“This new visa will open doors to travellers, granting them access to six countries under a single, unified tourist visa, ultimately fostering economic synergy across the Gulf region.”
The minister also said the UAE is getting ready to welcome the new flow of international tourists with the introduction of the unified visa.
The Emirates Tourism Council has prepared a tourist route that interconnects its seven emirates, the minister said.
The Middle East's tourism sector has recorded the strongest post-pandemic rebound in the world, despite persistent global economic headwinds, according to HSBC.
The region, home to the biggest two Arab economies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is unique in recording a “total recovery” in terms of tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2023, the bank said in a research report in August.
Mr bin Touq emphasised that the unified visa initiative is an integral part of the GCC 2030 tourism strategy, aimed at increasing the sector's contribution to the economy through increased inter-GCC travel and higher hotel occupancy rates.
The strategy aims to boost the number of visitors to GCC countries to 128.7 million visitors by 2030. That is up from 39.8 million last year, which was an increase of 136.6 per cent compared with 2021.
The minister also said that the GCC countries have “sophisticated and qualified travel and tourism infrastructure”.
The total number of hotels in the region reached 10,649 by the end of last year, recording a growth of 1.2 per cent compared with 2016. Out of that, the UAE alone has 1,114 hotels, ranking second in the region after Saudi Arabia, Mr bin Touq said.