A new electronic travel regime will make it easier for Emirati citizens to visit Britain and is intended to lead to a surge in arrivals and investment.
The Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) initiative opens for applications from citizens from the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan on February 1, and will apply to travel on February 22. It is already open to citizens from Qatar.
It is cheaper, faster and easier to apply for than the current Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW), which allowed visitors from the Gulf to stay in the UK for up to six months for tourism, business, study or medical treatment.
The new programme enables holders to make unlimited visits to the UK over two years, or until the holder’s passport expires, whichever comes first.
It is hoped the scheme will offset some of the loss of tourism which has resulted from the removal of tax-free shopping, which is deterring two million tourists from visiting the UK and costing more than £11 billion ($14 billion) in lost GDP.
It has been welcomed by Mansoor Abulhoul, UAE ambassador to the UK, who said it would streamline visits by Emiratis in terms of access, affordability and speed.
According to data from Global Blue, spending by visitors from the six GCC countries in the UK is only 65 per cent of 2019 levels.
Forecasts by VisitBritain predict spending by GCC visitors will return to 2019 levels this year and grow in 2025.
According to tracking data, three quarters of all holiday visitors from the UAE make repeat visits to Britain. Emirati tourists contributed nearly £800 million to the UK economy in 2022 alone.
Tourists from the GCC told The National they welcome the introduction of the ETA.
Jana AlBlushi from Oman said: “We are so happy, all of the GCC, because now we can visit any time. Before it was difficult for us. Now it is easy online. It maybe only takes 10 minutes or 15 minutes.
“Inshallah, I will now visit two times a year.”
Her son Maan, 20, was on his first visit to the UK and said the ease of the new electronic visa has encouraged him to return.
“It’s beautiful here," he said. "I will come back because now the electronic visa will make it very easy.”
Shamsa Alhooti, also from Oman, said she would also probably visit the UK more often as a result of the change.
“I am happy because it is easy now. This is the first time I have visited London. It’s very nice, beautiful.
“I am happy and I will visit more often.”
Magda Al Sharef, a dentist from Libya living in London who has friends from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, told The National her friends and relatives would welcome the change, as it saves them time on paperwork and hassle.
“They usually come twice a year, in the summer and at Christmas," she said. "But now they may now come more, for wedding preparations, for the sales and so on.
“It will be very helpful for them.”