Travel and tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. In 2016, the travel and tourism industry contributed an astonishing $7.6 trillion to the global economy – that’s 10.2 per cent of global GDP. And this has the potential to help countries generate economic growth, create jobs and enable national and regional development.
Here’s a brief look at what different GCC nations are doing in this regard:
Dubai’s tourism sector kicked off 2017 in high gear as the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) reported a stellar 12 per cent year-on-year growth over the first two months of 2017.
January and February saw Dubai welcoming just over three million visitors, nearly four times the rate of the previous year. Supported by growth in all key markets, China and Russia in particular drove the volumes and set the stage for a strong first quarter result.
This period witnessed a 60 per cent growth in overnight tourists from China with January alone peaking at a dramatic 102 per cent, while attracting a total of 157,000 Chinese visitors across just the first two months. Reflecting an even more significant percentage increase, Russian visitation jumped 84 per cent over the same period last year with February delivering a massive 140 per cent volume increase to bring a total of 65,000 travellers in the first two months.
Subsequently, both contributing countries moved up in their rankings as key source markets for inbound tourism to Dubai with China entering the top 4 for the first time and Russia moving to just outside the top 10, up 4 places from 15.
With Chinese travellers being able to enter Dubai without the cost and time of procuring visas in advance since November 2016 and Russian nationals getting similar privileges in February 2017, the importance of ‘ease and convenience’ of access in driving tourism traffic is evident in the immediate results following the policy changes.
Relaxed transit visa rules applicable for Qatar Airways passengers with a minimum layover of five hours in Doha. Free transit visas for short stopovers have been provided since November 2016 to attract more visitors to the country. The new system allows transiting passengers of all nationalities to enter Qatar for up to 96 hours in between flights.
Passengers travelling with Qatar Airways with a minimum transit time of five hours at Hamad International Airport can stay in Qatar for up to 96 hours, by applying for an entry visa in advance.
Passengers booking a multi-city option with Qatar Airways can simply include the stopover in Doha to their booking, at no extra charge. The ticket bookings and applications for the pre-approved transit visa should be done at least seven days (excluding public holidays) prior to departure. The visa is valid for 30 days from the date of issuance.
However, entry into Qatar will be at the discretion of the immigration authorities and the Qatar Airways offices act only as a processing agent for visa applications.
Oman has relaxed its rules on multiple entry visas for certain countries in an effort to boost the local economy. Travelling from 38 countries to the Sultanate can now stay for three months at a time, rather than three weeks.
Under the previous system, visitors faced fines if they outstayed the 21-day limit of the multiple entry visas. They can now stay for two three-month periods within a year.
Countries eligible for the new visa, which costs $130 (OMR50), include the UK and most of central and eastern Europe. Visitors from India, the Philippines and Bangladesh can apply for an extended visa but require a sponsor in Oman.
Saudi Arabia has a new plan to issue a number of tourist visas per year as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which was approved by the country’s cabinet.
At present, the country does not issue tourist visas but it did run a pilot programme between 2006 and 2010, allowing 25,000 tourist visas per year for visitors interested to see Saudi Arabia’s ancient archaeological sites.
In related developments, Saudi Arabia’s increase in visa fees for travellers is expected to earn the country millions of riyals from pilgrims without dampening tourism figures. The country’s new visa regime does not affect pilgrims for Hajj or Umrah travelling to the country for the first time.
It will cost $533 (SR2,000) for a single-entry visa. Religious tourists were previously exempt from all visa fees. For all other travellers, entry visas will also cost more. For example, a multiple-entry visa now costs $800 (SR3,000) for six months, $1,333 (SR5,000) for a year and $2,133 (SR8,000) for two years.
Previously, UAE travellers were charged $137 (SR515) for multiple-entry visas.
GCC nationals are excluded from all visa fees. The new visa regime could bring in millions of riyals from the religious travellers alone.
The Bahrain’s Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs authority has recently announced several changes to Bahrain’s visit visa system.
A single entry visa allows holders to stay in Bahrain for up to two weeks, while a one year re-entry visa allows for a 90 day stay per visit. Nationals from 114 countries and foreign residents living in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are eligible to apply for these visas, while nationals from 67 countries are able to receive this upon arrival. Bahrain continues to add to the list of eligible nationalities, with Macau being the most recent addition.
The maximum stay per visit under the existing three month multiple re-entry visa has been increased from two weeks to one month.
Citizens of Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States who obtain a five year multiple entry visa are now permitted to stay in-country for up to 90 days, instead of the previously permitted 30 days.
Kuwait has increased the minimum salary required for expatriates to be able to bring their spouse or children on a visit to $656 (KD200), up from $492 (KD150).
Under new measures, the requirement is raised to $984 (KD300) a month for an expatriate who wants to bring a sibling or other members of the family. The measures stipulate that parents who are more than 50 years old will not be granted visit visas. However, exceptions can be granted following a study of the visit application.
Kuwaiti authorities have also raised the minimum salary required for foreigners to sponsor family members from $820 (KD250) to $1,476 (KD450).