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UAE announces new visa for GCC in tourism push

Tourism visa encourages GCC visitors Dubai Tourism
The new visa under consideration aims to encourage tourism between GCC states for non-citizen residents
  • Planned visa for travel between GCC states
  • Applies to residents, as well as citizens
  • Tourism as part of GDP grew 47% in 2023

The UAE minister of economy has announced plans for a new visa to allow travel within the GCC countries, in a bid to boost local and regional tourism.

The GCC visa being considered will allow those residing in the bloc to travel easily among the six members states – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

It was announced by Abdullah bin Touq al Marri at the Future Hospitality Summit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

“It will allow local tourism to focus not just on one country but on the whole GCC as well,” the minister said. “It is on the table, we’re going to see it very soon.”

Until now, only GCC citizens could easily cross the borders between the GCC countries, while non-citizen residents usually need to apply for a visa.

The aim is to complement tourism strategies developed by each member state, al Marri added. “We have a strategy for 2030 on the GCC level to complement our economy, specifically on the tourism aspect,” he said.

A new focus

GCC member states are looking to tourism and hospitality to diversify their economies away from oil and gas.

The region’s tourism and hospitality sector has recorded the quickest post-covid recovery in the world and witnessed a 47 percent increase in its contribution to GDP in 2023. 

From an occupancy perspective the region is doing very well, Thomas Emanuel from London-based research company STR told AGBI. “It is back up above pre-pandemic levels and is one percent ahead of where it was in 2019,” he said.

There has been a 14.5 percent increase in the number of jobs supported by the sector, and a $107 billion increase in its overall contribution to GDP. 

“You’ve got the powerhouses of Saudi Arabia and the UAE and they’re the two countries that are really driving this boom,” Emanuel said. “The connectivity is strong, the entrepreneurial spirit is strong. They get things done.”

The UAE is looking to double its GDP to more than $800 billion by 2030 and tourism accounts for around 15 percent of the total, the minister said.

“We need to grow by 7 percent by 2030,” confirmed Al Marri, adding that the UAE’s tourism strategy focuses on attracting AED450 billion ($123 billion) of investments while raising tourism’s contribution to GDP.

He added that the hospitality infrastructure has been carefully built in the country for the last four decades to accommodate all types of tourists.

Saudi Arabia’s huge investments in tourism are part of Vision 2030 to diversify the country’s economy. 

The kingdom has raised its ambitions of welcoming 100 million visitors by the end of the decade to 150 million, speakers at the conference have confirmed. 

The Saudi Public Investment Fund in July set up a tourism investment company called Asfar, to propel the industry to an international level by investing and fostering investments in partnership with public and private entities.

Hospitality and residential projects worth almost $2 trillion are under development in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt accounting for 90 percent of investment, according to data released at the Future Hospitality Summit.

Real estate consultant Knight Frank said Saudi Arabia has $1.2 trillion worth of developments in the pipeline, followed by the UAE ($300 billion) and Egypt ($200 billion).

This may raise concerns over the risk of oversupply and competition between GCC countries.

But al Marri sees this as a healthy factor stimulating growth: “The competition is good for the region, we welcome it.”