Travel agents in the GCC countries have made clear the benefits that a single GCC visa, allowing visitors to move easily between countries on a single trip, would bring to the economy.
Currently the only GCC countries to operate a shared entry visa are Qatar and Oman, a move which as been described as a ‘huge step forward’ by agents in the Gulf. Many are keen to encourage the move to a single visa because of the likely increase in tourism numbers that such a move would lead to.
In 2001 the UAE introduced a visa waiver scheme to the nationals of thirty three countries which is thought to have buoyed the number of tourists. This move has been coupled with the extension of tourist operations in other Gulf countries and the opening up of flight routes around the region.
Dubai based General Manager (Commercial) of the Rais Hassan Sa’adi Group, George Varghese, described a GCC visa as a ‘no-brainer’, which it might well be for the UAE given that an estimated 20% of its GDP comes from tourism. However, some countries are less keen than others to see a single visa introduced. Saudi Arabia has said that it will focus on encouraging its own nationals to holiday at home and has no plans to sign up to a GCC visa. Kuwait has also expressed concerns about security issues around the idea.
More recently Qatar revoked its visa waivers on entry because of concerns that the system was not being reciprocated fairly in Europe. Qatar has since changed its mind and backtracked on the plan making visas available again, but the controversy is evidence of the obstacles that a single visa could face before being introduced.
Andrew Reid, Staff Writer, Gulf Jobs Market News