GCC nations consider Schengen-like visa to bolster tourism sector

Implementation could happen sooner than expected
GCC nations consider Schengen-like visa to bolster tourism sector
GCC countries plan to implement a unified visa similar to Europe’s Schengen visa

Tourism is rebounding in countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). To further boost the sector across the region, GCC nations are mulling the launch of a unified visa system, similar to Europe’s Schengen visa. This is according to Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, economy minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

GCC member states include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Sooner than expected

Speaking at the last Future Hospitality Summit held in Abu Dhabi, Al Marri expressed that the prospects of a pan-GCC visa system could substantially improve the region’s tourism landscape. He further hinted that introducing the new visa framework could happen “very soon.”

Earlier this year, Bahrain’s Minister of Tourism, Fatima Al-Sairafi, disclosed that discussions have been in progress among ministerial representatives from GCC countries to establish a single visa system.

During a panel discussion at the Arabian Travel Market exhibition in Dubai, Al-Sairafi explained the potential benefits of such a unified visa system.

“We see that happening very soon because we see people flying from abroad to Europe usually spending their time in several countries rather than in one country. We really saw the value this can bring not only to each country but also to all of us,” he expressed.

Currently, only citizens of member states can enjoy visa-free travel within the GCC. With this recent announcement, the tourism sector in the region can significantly grow. This development can particularly be a game-changer for expatriate residents who constitute more than 50 percent of the GCC’s population.

Presently, expatriates must apply for visas separately when traveling within GCC member states. However, some nationalities may enjoy visa-free access or visa-on-arrival privileges.

GCC Schengen visa

Meanwhile, Bin Touq affirmed the importance of a Schengen-style visa in the GCC. He stated, “I think that a single GCC visa is something which has been on the table. It’s been complementing all the GCC strategies on tourism. Hopefully, we are going to see something around a pan-GCC visa, which will allow easier mobility of people within the GCC. A resident of Saudi Arabia, for instance, can enter the UAE and vice versa. I think that’s where we see the future of GCC tourism.”

Read: Dubai, Abu Dhabi revealed as top winter destinations by new report

Tourism trends in GCC

For the first half of 2023 (H1), UAE airports saw a huge influx of travelers, hitting approximately 62 million passengers. This figure mirrors a 46 percent year-on-year (YoY) increase, according to the UAE Civil Aviation Authority.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabian Airlines transported over 13.7 million guests on both domestic and international routes in the first six months of 2023. This represents a 24 percent YoY increase.

Additionally, the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority posted a significant increase in tourist arrivals. A total of 5.9 million visitors arrived in Bahrain during H1 2023. Tourism is also booming in Qatar, with international arrivals in H1 of this year doubling when compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

In Oman, the rise in tourism is reflected in the boom of its hotel sector. As of the end of June 2023, the revenue generated by hotels in the country exceeded $285.7 million. This is equivalent to a 32 percent surge compared to the same period in 2022

Kuwait Airlines, Kuwait’s flag carrier, notably recorded a 30 percent increase in revenues, a 45 percent growth in passenger traffic at Terminal 4, and a 34 percent surge in aircraft utilization.

For more hospitality and tourism news, click here. 

Related Topics:
The stories on our website are intended for informational purposes only. Those with finance, investment, tax or legal content are not to be taken as financial advice or recommendation. Refer to our full disclaimer policy here.