The UAE's first multi-entry five-year tourist visa will encourage travellers to become 'repeat visitors' and spend more while they are in the Emirates, experts said.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said the visa would be implemented in the next four months as part of a drive to establish the country as a 'major global tourism destination'.
It will allow tourists multiple entries into the country over the five period, instead of having to apply for entry for each visit. It is not clear if there will be a visa application fee and no other details have yet been released.
At present, tourists can visit the UAE with a free multiple entry visa for up to 90 days, from the date of entry.
“Dubai will be on the radar as a longer term option especially in the winter months,” said Maggie Bootsman, general manager of Travel Counsellors UAE.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to allow people into the UAE for a longer period of time.”
Apart from tourists from India, Pakistan and the Philippines who can visit their family more frequently, it will attract visitors from Europe, Africa and South America who travel to the region.
“It gives tourists visiting the region a window of opportunity to experience all that Dubai and the UAE have to offer,” Ms Bootsman said.
“We have a lot of visitors from South Africa to the region. Australians too come here but for a very short period. Once they visit, they will understand there is more depth so they will be interested in staying longer.”
The new system will help streamline visa requirements. While South Africans apply before they arrive in the country and pay Dh380 for a 30-day visa, Australians are eligible for a free 30-day visa on arrival at the airport.
Citizens from nations including the US, UK, Canada, Japan and China do not require advance visas.
The Cabinet decision included a visa waiver for Mexican citizens that will be implemented along with the five-year visa in the first quarter of the year, according to Wam news agency.
While recent government figures show a drop off in numbers of Indian, British and Russian tourists, Dubai welcomed 12 million visitors in the first nine months of 2019.
The Cabinet decision could have wide-ranging benefits, Ms Bootsman said.
“When people know they can spend more time here, it could be an opportunity for them to look at holiday apartments in Dubai,” she said.
“This was blocked in the past because they couldn’t spend more time here but now they will be willing to invest more which will be a great boost.”
Premjit Bangara, general manager of Sharaf Travel in Dubai, said repeat visits would have a positive impact on the economy.
“The flexibility it provides is the defining change. It will encourage more travel. We are looking at people who will want to come again and again,” he said.
“After one visit, people now think that another visa costs too much. But a five-year visa will turn a first-timer into a second and third-timer.”
Longer visits will also prompt travellers to head to other emirates.
“When it’s a single entry, people visit another country. A multi-entry will draw people back again like a magnet,” Mr Bangara said.
“It’s not just Dubai and Abu Dhabi, tourists will have time to visit Fujairah and Al Ain as well.
They can space their visits out and get to know the country.”
Information about the visa fee and the duration of stay is awaited to analyse how the five-year tourist visa will stimulate tourism.
“It’s important for us to understand how long an individual will be allowed to stay in country,” said Marcin Kubarek, senior manager at Fragomen, an immigration services firm.
“After the Cabinet announcement, there will be a ministerial resolution issued giving the additional terms and conditions. Every facilitation of mobility into the country helps boost tourism, investment and business activity and this visit visa comes just at the right time.”
It would spark interest among visiting businessmen to return with family.
“As a tourism and business hub, Dubai and the UAE attracts people from South Asia, Africa, the Philippines,” Mr Kubarek said.
“This will open the markets of the UAE to potential partners doing business here who will want to spend their holidays in the country and explore the eastern and northern emirates.”