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UK cuts GCC visa costs to boost trade and tourism

  • 790,000 Gulf visitors to UK spent $2.5bn during stays last year
  • Visa scheme via mobile app will be in place in February 2024
  • Allows people to make ‘last-minute decisions’ to go to UK

The UK is cutting the costs of visiting the country for nationals from the GCC and Jordan in a bid to boost business and tourism links.

Gulf and Jordanian visitors will soon only be required to pay £10 ($12.45) to apply for an electronic travel authorisation (ETA). They pay £30 per visit under the current electronic visa waiver scheme, while it costs Jordanians £100.

Last year 790,000 Gulf visitors spent $2.5 billion during their stays in the UK. Typically, a Gulf tourist spends longer in the country, averaging up to 12 nights compared with seven for other nationalities, according to VisitBritain.

London is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Gulf Arabs, and according to Harrods managing director Michael Ward GCC shoppers made up 16 percent of trade across its retail channels last year.

Lord Ahmad, minister of state for the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, said people across the Gulf and Jordan will be the first to benefit from the UK’s new ETA scheme which will “boost business and tourism links”.

The scheme is set to launch for Qatari nationals in October and for the rest of the GCC states and Jordan in February 2024, ahead of a worldwide expansion throughout 2024.

An ETA is a digital permission to travel for those visiting or transiting through the UK who do not need a visa for short stays, or who do not currently hold another UK visa.

Gavin Landry, international director at VisitBritain, told AGBI that the ETA will allow people to make last-minute decisions to come to the UK. “We’ve traditionally seen a spike when we make it easier to travel and easier to get to a destination,” he said.

Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta, head of strategic development for Mena at Apex Group, added: “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.”

The move to the ETA scheme means that the visa requirement will be removed for nationals from GCC states and Jordan. It brings the requirements for them to visit the UK in line with other visitors, such as those from the US and Australia.

The application process for an ETA is entirely digital via a mobile phone app.