Dubai's charges for tourist visas and hefty deposits for trips are holding back the emirate's plans to attract more visitors, members of the tourism industry say. Tourists from the majority of countries - including India, Pakistan, Russia and China, some of which are seen as major growth markets - are often asked to put down a deposit, which is typically between Dh5,000 (US$1,360) and Dh9,000, to secure a visa through a hotel or travel agency in Dubai. Citizens of 33 countries do not need visas to enter the UAE.
"When one can get a visa without putting down a deposit to any other country, why pay huge deposits?" a Dubai hotelier said. "This makes Dubai the second choice for many travellers when it comes to visa procedures." Hotels and tour operators in Dubai can apply for a visa online without paying deposits, but they are liable if the guest on the visa overstays. The company's visa system is then automatically blocked and the company must pay about Dh5,000 to reactivate it.
A visa obtained through the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department's (DNRD) online service costs Dh210 in visa fees and Dh220 in form fees, according to the website. "If people overstay, we have to pay," said Mohammed Umar Farooq, the owner of Rimsha Travels, which demands a Dh7,000 deposit before issuing a visa. "It's a big responsibility. Sometimes people come and they run away without paying." But some corporate clients do not have to pay a deposit because the company had developed a business relationship with them, he said.
Royal Caribbean, the cruise line that launched Gulf cruises this year, has also called for changes to the visa regulations. It says its passengers have to pay the visa charges three times as they have to leave the UAE and re-enter the country. Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and DNRD were unavailable for comment. Dubai is planning to double its tourist arrivals to 15 million by 2015. The industry comprised 19 per cent of Dubai's GDP in 2008, according to the DTCM.
Room rates fell sharply at hotels in Dubai last year as new lodgings opened, increasing competition for guests as a global downturn reduced the number of visitors. The DTCM, hotels and other members of the industry have put great effort into promoting Dubai as a destination in markets such as India and China. When the financial crisis set in, there was a decline in the numbers of visitors from the UK and the rest of Europe, which had long been Dubai's primary source of visitors.