Dubai billboards to showcase Britain to promote new visa-free travel scheme

VisitBritain is promoting destinations in the west of England such as Bath and Bristol

The sun rises over colourful houses in Totterdown, Bristol. Getty Images
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Billboards in Dubai will showcase parts of Britain away from London as part of a campaign to promote and support a new visa-free entry scheme for Emiratis.

VisitBritain chief executive Patricia Yates told The National the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme will make it easier for Gulf nationals to make repeat visits to the UK.

“We are going to have a digital billboard along the Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. That should be coming in the next few weeks,” said Ms Yates.

“Our Great Britain campaigns are under way across the region to showcase the breadth of exciting experiences and destinations to inspire travel to Britain."

Citizens of the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan can now apply for the ETA, offering them a faster and cheaper process than the current Electronic Visa Waiver.

Applications are already open for travel from February 22.

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, rather than the limited stays of up to six months via the EVW.

Ms Yates hopes the ETA scheme will encourage Gulf nationals to make repeat visits to the UK.

"It is great to see the Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme roll out to more Gulf nationals as well as for Jordanians, making travel to the UK easier, cheaper, and more accessible for them,” she said.

“Combined with our strong airline connections, the scheme boosts our competitive tourism offer and our welcome to visitors,” said Ms Yates.

She added: “The ETA lasts two years and we hope visitors will therefore explore more around the country.”

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, according to research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

Forecasts by VisitBritain predict spending by GCC visitors will return to 2019 levels this year and grow in 2025.

VisitBritain's research found from January to September 2023 there were 776,000 visits from the GCC to the UK, up 35 per cent on the same months in 2022.

They spent £1.8 billion on their trips, up 22 per cent on the same months in 2022.

The agency has partnered with companies like dnata and Wego to promote Britain as a destination across the GCC region in cinemas, on social media and on digital billboards.

VisitBritain is currently hosting tourist operators from the GCC to showcase a range of destinations on the Great West Way, which includes cities such Bath and Bristol, in addition to many small towns and villages.

“Our research shows that visitors from the Gulf are keen to roam around, visiting multiple destination types on their next international trip,” said Ms Yates.

“One of our challenges is to boost awareness to visitors from the Gulf about travel beyond London.

“Showcase Britain is the ideal platform for GCC buyers to learn first-hand how easy it is and just how many of these diverse experiences are within just a few hours from London. The Great West Way is an ideal regional add-on to a London city stay.”

Jules Mittra, the founder of In and Beyond Bath, a tour company, showed the tour operators the sights in the area.

“London is lovely, but it’s not England. In the same way that New York is not America. It’s a completely different cultural experience,” he told The National.

“So we did a few things that would be possible on a day trip from London.”

They included a visit to Lacock, a village featuring timber-framed cottages and local shops which has been featured extensively in TV and films, including Harry Potter.

One of the buyers, Wafaa Alharthi, vice president of Alfaris International Travel & Tourism in Saudi Arabia, said: “In just five nights we visited 12 unique locations along England’s Great West Way, experiencing everything from its beautiful countryside and rich history shared by wonderfully engaging tour guides; to the region’s delicious local food and beverage offerings and luxurious accommodation.

“Many clients have expressed interest in social media posts I’ve shared of the Great West Way, which is very exciting for us."

Tourists excited about new Electronic Travel Authorisation to enter the UK - video

Tourists excited about new Electronic Travel Authorisation to enter the UK

Tourists excited about new Electronic Travel Authorisation to enter the UK
Updated: February 02, 2024, 7:16 AM