Travellers to Oman will have to apply in advance for a tourism visa online in a move that is expected to affect hundreds of thousands of visitors from the UAE annually.
Previously, most travellers could obtain a visa on arrival, either at an airport or border post, though the e-visa system launched last year. Until now, it allowed them to choose between the two types of application.
On Wednesday, the Omani government announced that effective immediately, applications for tourist visas, including express visas, can only be made online through http://evisa.rop.gov.om, "and will not be received at the visa service desks".
The tourist visa fee was also increased last year from 5 Omani rials (Dh47) to 20 Omani rials (Dh188) and it is valid for stays of up to one month. It has not yet been confirmed how the new rules will apply to GCC residents, who enjoy the reduced fee of 5 Omani rials but these visas are also available online.
According to the Royal Oman Police website, to obtain an e-visa, visitors must register with a username and password, and then select their choice of visa before payment.
Tour operators in Khasab have been invited to a closed meeting with Oman's Ministry of Tourism on Sunday to discuss the new procedures. The Omani exclave is a popular destination for one-day dhow tours from the UAE.
“There are many customers visiting the region just for a day,” said Arundas Haridas, operations manager at Dolphin Khasab Tours. “It will be definitely a big problem for all the tour operators. There are customers who decide the night before to come to Khasab. I think around 30 to 40 per cent of customers book like that.
“For the rest of Oman it works out, because those tourists are not just going for a day or two but those coming to Khasab are just coming for a day or two days, not more.”
Karen Aguirre, a reservations executive at Al Marsa Travel & Tourism, did not expect new regulations to impact the coastal town of Dibba, which is only accessible from the UAE and where tourists visas are not required for entry. “There’s no news," she said. “They might have a plan but we don’t know when is that.”
Ambiguity surrounds border-crossing procedures, which change on a regular basis. Go Tours, a company specialising in visa runs from the UAE to Oman, takes announcements with a grain of salt.
“We hear of rules pretty much every day or couple of days, all different types of things and different sources,” said the company owner Nick, who asked not to give his last name. “I expect it will be business as usual. One thing I do know is, if they bring it in, it will be absolute pandemonium.”