Single Gulf visa plan a tourism game-changer, experts say

Unified entry permit aims to ease access to the region and could be introduced within two years

An illuminated sign #ExperienceOman can be see along the Mutrah Corniche in Muscat, the capital city of Oman.
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A planned single unified tourist visa for the Gulf would be a game-changer for the region, hospitality and tourism experts said.

The visa, expected to be introduced within two years, will open the GCC nations to tourists from the Middle East and around the world.

Experts said there was an untapped market for tourism in the GCC bloc, with many travellers put off by visa restrictions that made reaching some nations difficult.

“It’s going to be a game-changer because it’s going to be a lot easier to travel around the countries in the GCC,” said Stephan Vanden Auweele, chief executive of United Hospitality Management, which owns and operates 15 properties in the Middle East and Europe.

It’s going to be a lot easier to travel around the countries in the GCC
Stephan Vanden Auweele

“You could spend a few days in Dubai or Abu Dhabi for example before heading to other countries in the region.

“Previously it was difficult to obtain a visa for some countries in the GCC depending on what passport you had, as different countries have their own criteria.”

Abdulla bin Touq, the UAE’s Minister of Economy, said the GCC tourism visa would probably be introduced within the next two years.

A recent meeting of GCC tourism ministers in Oman “unanimously" endorsed the introduction of the visa, which was said to be presented at the coming GCC summit, state news agency Wam reported on Monday.

Mr bin Touq said the unified visa initiative was an integral part of the GCC 2030 tourism strategy.

“People are always wondering how they can get a visa into Qatar or Saudi and wherever else they want to visit,” said Zahara Kurji D’Souza, who runs a travel counselling company.

“They end up just going to Dubai or Abu Dhabi as a one-stop shop because of all the fracas they have getting visas to other countries in the GCC.

“Even when they travel in groups they find some might be eligible for visas in some countries, while others travelling with them may not, so it puts them off.”

Other hospitality experts said the move would be hugely beneficial to the local economies across the GCC.

Simplifying travel

“It simplifies travel and enhances the allure of the GCC as a multi-faceted tourist hub with much to offer, from iconic skyscrapers to rich cultural experiences,” said Dany Cherfane, director of sales and marketing at Grand Plaza Movenpick Media City in Dubai.

“Hotels together with tour operators stand to benefit significantly from this innovative policy allowing them to collaborate by offering travelers multi-destination experiences.

“It is poised to create new opportunities for the hospitality and tourism sectors making the region a more attractive global destination.”

The total number of hotels across the GCC region reached 10,649 by the end of 2022, recording a growth of 1.2 per cent compared with 2016.

The UAE alone has 1,114 hotels, ranking second in the region after Saudi Arabia.

The GCC tourism strategy aims to increase the number of visitors to countries in the region to 128.7 million visitors by 2030.

There were 39.8 million visits last year, which was an increase of 136.6 per cent compared with 2021.

“The move presents an opportunity for the industry to really tell the diverse story of the GCC as one, showcasing all the authentic experiences that each Gulf state has to offer, and to share resources that benefit all,” said Naim Maadad, founder of Gates Hospitality.

“I also have doubt that it will give global hospitality chains further confidence in investing in the GCC, as the logistics of multi-destination trips become a lot easier.

“Apart from the positive impact that it will bring to the hospitality sector, the announcement also demonstrates perhaps something more arguably more important, and that is the appetite for the region to work together in unity.”

Updated: October 25, 2023, 4:47 AM