November 9, 2023
The secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Wednesday approved a unified tourist visa for all the organization’s member states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The new visa was announced at the 40th meeting of the GCC interior ministers, which took place under the chairmanship of Sayyed Hamoud bin Faisal Al Busaidi, interior minister of Oman and president of the current session, in the Omani capital of Muscat.
GCC Secretary-General Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi said that the visa represents a new achievement for the six-country bloc and will underpin “continuous communication and co-ordination” between members.
“The unified Gulf tourist visa is a project that will contribute to facilitating and streamlining the movement of residents and tourists between the six GCC countries and will, undoubtedly, have a positive [impact] on the economic and tourist sectors,” Albudaiwi said.
The visa will be introduced during 2024–25.
The move will positively impact GCC economies and will enhance trade between them. It is also expected to boost tourism, as some would-be visitors are put off by some of the current visa restrictions of bloc member states.
The new visa will work in a way similar to that of the Schengen visa, which allows stays of up to 90 days in any of the 27 European Union member states for tourism or business.
Last month, UAE Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri said in an interview published by the WAM news agency that the visa is an integral part of the GCC 2030 tourism strategy, designed to increase the tourism sector’s contribution to member states’ gross domestic product.
The Middle East experienced a rapid recovery from the COVID-19 as far as tourism is concerned. Global tourism is not expected to fully recover until 2024, but the first quarter of this year saw the Middle East become the world’s first region where tourism arrivals returned to pre-pandemic levels, exceeding 2019 numbers by 15%, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. The outbreak of the Hamas-Israel war has raised concerns, however, that the trajectory of Middle East tourism might not be as rosy as thought earlier this year.
The GCC’s largest economy, Saudi Arabia, has earmarked $1 trillion to develop its tourism sector as the desert kingdom looks to diversify away from oil.
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