UAE Minister of Economy revealed the Gulf Cooperation Council’s ambitious plans to solidify the region as a global tourist hotspot, aiming for a 7% annual increase in visitor numbers.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are set to launch a unified tourist visa by 2025, according to an announcement made by Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri, the UAE’s Minister of Economy.
Speaking to Emirates News Agency on Monday, Al-Marri revealed that the visa will allow holders to travel across all six member countries of the GCC. The decision to introduce the unified visa received unanimous approval at the seventh meeting of GCC tourism ministers, held earlier this month in Oman.
“This initiative is an integral part of the GCC 2030 tourism strategy, designed to elevate the tourism sector’s contribution to the GDP (gross domestic product) 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 stated.
Specific regulations and legislation for the visa are being formulated, with its rollout dependent on the readiness of each member country’s internal systems.
The GCC’s joint tourism strategy for 2023-2030 targets an annual 7% increase in inbound travel to the region. Visitor numbers soared last year, reaching 39.8 million, which represents a staggering 136.6% increase compared to 2021.
Qatar emerged as the world’s top-performing destination in tourist arrivals for the period from January to July 2023, as stated in the most recent United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) World Tourism Barometer. The report focused on monitoring the tourism sector’s rebound post-pandemic up until the end of July 2023.
The barometer indicated that international tourist arrivals in Qatar surged by 95 percent during this period, the highest increase globally. Furthermore, the Middle East saw an overall uptick in arrivals that exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 20 percent—the best performance of any region for January to July 2023.
Remarkably, the Middle East remains the only region worldwide to surpass its 2019 tourist numbers within this timeframe.
Al-Marri also emphasised the strong travel and tourism infrastructure across the GCC countries. As of the end of 2022, the region had a total of 10,649 hotel establishments, with Saudi Arabia offering the most facilities.
However, it is unclear how the unified visa system will cater to differing policies.
Some GCC council members expressed concern over the ability of Israelis to acquire the visa through GCC countries that normalised with the Zionist regime, like the UAE and Bahrain.
“We refuse to allow a person from the occupation forces entity to enter Kuwait even if he obtains an entry visa from another country,” said a Kuwaiti on X, formerly known as Twitter.