In a bid to enhance tourism revenues and footfall for all countries in the region, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is looking to launch a “Schengen-style” visa for tourists which allowed holders to travel to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman with a single visa.
Discussions have been underway at the ministerial level among GCC nations on how to achieve a unified single visa, said Fatima Al Sairafi, Minister of Tourism in Bahrain during the Arabian Travel Market (ATM).
“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 to each country but all of us.”
Al Sairafi said.
How the Schengen-Style Visa Will Simplify Travel in GCC Countries
The proposed ‘Schengen-style’ visa for tourists in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is expected to work in the same way as the Schengen visa in Europe.
Just like the Schengen visa allows visitors to visit 26 European countries without the need for multiple visas. Similarly, with the unified GCC visa, tourists will be able to visit all GCC countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman with a single visa.
Currently, visitors to GCC countries require separate visas for each country they visit. This process can be time-consuming and costly, leading to a decline in tourism.
The proposed unified visa is aimed at increasing tourism revenue and making it easier for tourists to explore the GCC region.
Unified destination boosts Bahrain’s tourism industry
According to Al Sairafi, Bahrain has benefited from co-promoting the country along with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. “We targeted 8.3 million tourists for 2022 but achieved 9.9 million visitors because we co-promoted Bahrain along with the UAE and other GCC markets. It resulted in an increased number of tourists,” she said.
Vital for GCC’s tourism growth
Abdullah Al Saleh, the undersecretary for the Ministry of Economy, believes that the tourism sector is vital for the growth of the GCC economies.
“We have one common market and unified policies. In the tourism sector, the GCC can benefit from both supply and demand sides by having umbrella regulations, policies, and procedures to facilitate growth.”
To ensure a sustainable tourism sector, the ministers have devised a unified GCC tourism strategy to increase the contribution of the sector to the GCC GDP, bolster the employment of nationals, boost competitiveness, and promote unique events.
“It is part of the comprehensive vision of the GCC that we have one goal and one vision,” said Al Saleh.
Travellers seek multiple stops and regions
Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority, said that these days, travellers don’t think of a country but a region. “I believe travellers of tomorrow will look always at multiple stops, routes, and regions. Joint offerings can be promoted and benefit all,” he added.
In conclusion, the discussions among GCC nations to achieve a unified single visa are ongoing, and details about the visa’s application process and eligibility criteria are yet to be announced. However, once implemented, the visa is expected to make travelling within the GCC region much more accessible and convenient for tourists.
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