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New UK tourist visa set to boost GCC trade corridor

Qatar Airways planes Qatar Airways
Visitors from Qatar will be the first to benefit from the new UK tourist visa, from October 2023
  • The UK is introducing the ETA scheme this year
  • Qatari visitors can apply from October, ahead of expansion in 2024
  • London is one of the most popular destinations for Gulf visitors

Visitors from Qatar will be the first to benefit from the new UK tourist visa scheme, ahead of a worldwide expansion of the scheme throughout 2024. 

Qatari visitors will be the first to be able to apply for an electronic travel authorisation (ETA) in October. The rest of the GCC and Jordan can apply for the new UK tourist visa from February 2024. 

Experts told AGBI the new system will not only improve tourism ties between the UK and the Gulf region, but also make it easier to do business.

The initiative comes as tourism between the UK and the Gulf is rebounding after being hit hard during the Covid-19 pandemic, when restrictions were placed on air routes between the regions.

London is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Gulf Arabs. Around 1.2 million visited the UK in 2019, spending £2.6 billion. Typically, a Gulf tourist spends longer in the UK, averaging up to 12 nights compared with seven for other nationalities, according to VisitBritain.

Kunal Fabiani, CEO of Americas and Africa for Healy Consultants Group in Dubai, told AGBI that the scheme “is a testament to the new era in UK-GCC relations”. 

He said: “It will effectively eliminate travel barriers by inviting Qatari investors and entrepreneurs to contribute to the UK’s thriving business landscape while enabling UK firms to tap into the dynamic GCC market and reap benefits from the skillset available.”

Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta, head of strategic development for Mena at Apex Group, said: “You can literally jump on a plane and go do business without the two to three weeks of delays before you get a visa. This ease of doing business will substantially lift all sectors and boost the UK-GCC trade corridor.”

Full replacement scheme

The UK said in a statement that the application process will be “quick, light touch and entirely digital”. Most visitors will apply via a mobile app and receive a swift decision on their application. 

The cost of an ETA will be in line with similar international schemes, and visitors can make multiple trips to the UK during its two-year validity period.

As part of the application process, individuals will need to provide biometric details and answer a set of suitability questions. 

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said: “ETAs will enhance our border security by increasing our knowledge about those seeking to come to the UK and preventing the arrival of those who pose a threat.

“It will also improve travel for legitimate visitors, with those visiting from Gulf Cooperation Council states being among the first to benefit.”

The new visa scheme will entirely replace the current electronic visa waiver scheme, which requires visitors to the UK from GCC states to pay a higher cost for a single-use visit.

By the end of 2024, ETAs will be a requirement worldwide for visitors who do not need a visa for short stays, including those visiting the UK from Europe. 

Last month, VisitBritain unveiled a new marketing campaign to encourage more Gulf travellers to visit the UK this spring.

The ‘Spill the Tea’ campaign is in English and Arabic and focuses on British music, coastal attractions, historical treasures and one-off events, such as the coronation in London and Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool, both taking place in May.