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GCC ministers agree to unified tourist visa

Tourists visiting Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. The UAE contains 399 of the GCC's 837 official tourist sites Emmanuel Catteau/Hans Lucas via Reuters
Tourists visiting Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. The UAE contains 399 of the GCC's 837 official tourist sites
  • One visa for six countries
  • ‘Integral’ to tourism strategy
  • Intra-GCC tourism surging

A unified GCC tourist visa is to be launched within the next two years as the region targets $188 billion from the industry by the end of the decade.

Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri, the UAE’s minister of economy, said the visa, which will allow holders to travel across the six Gulf nations – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – will be introduced next year or 2025.

In comments published by the UAE state news agency Wam, the minister said the seventh meeting of GCC tourism ministers in Oman unanimously endorsed its rollout.

GCC countries aim to increase the spending of inbound tourists by 8 percent annually, with receipts close to $97 billion this year, up by almost 13 percent on 2022.

Specific regulations and legislation for the visa will be developed, with the launch subject to the readiness of each GCC country, he added.

“This initiative is an integral part of the GCC 2030 tourism strategy, designed to elevate the tourism sector’s contribution to the GDP through increased inter-GCC travel and elevated hotel occupancy rates, transforming the GCC into a pre-eminent global destination for both regional and international tourists,” Al Marri said.

As of the end of 2022, the GCC had a total of 10,649 hotels and 674,832 keys. 

The number of visitors to GCC countries reached almost 40 million last year, soaring 137 percent compared to 2021, with a target of reaching nearly 129 million visitors by 2030.

The GCC has 837 official tourist sites, with the UAE contributing nearly half of them.

The region also aims to increase the direct GDP contribution of the travel and tourism sector by 7 percent annually.

Intra-GCC revenue constituted almost 30 percent of the total tourism figure in 2022, up 99 percent on the previous year.

The UAE wants to double its GDP to more than $800 billion by 2030, with tourism accounting for around 15 percent of that. 

Saudi Arabia plans to attract 100 million visitors annually by 2030 and Qatar said last month that it surpassed its 2022 visitor figure in the first eight months of this year.