Unified visa to boost GCC biz

Ministers from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain discussed the streamlining of GCC Tourism at ATM 2024. According to policy makers, tourism is projected to account for 12% of the UAE’s GDP.

TT Bureau

GCC policymakers gathered at Arabian Travel Market 2024 in Dubai to discuss the future of regional travel and tourism. Some of the key highlights from the session was Gulf-wide collaboration, ease of inter-regional travel and infrastructure development. According to the policymakers, tourism is projected to account for 12 per cent of the UAE’s GDP this year.

H.E. Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri, Minister of Economy, UAE, underlined the tourism sector’s growing contribution to the country’s economy in his opening comments on the global stage. “According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), our tourism sector has been a dynamic force within our economy, contributing an impressive 11.7 per cent to GDP (in 2023), amounting to AED 220 billion,” H.E. Al Marri told attendees. “For 2024, the forecast is set even higher, with an anticipated contribution of 12 per cent to the (UAE’s) GDP, equating to AED 236 billion,” H.E. Al Marri added.

In 2023, tourism created 809,000 jobs in the UAE – 12.3 per cent of the total employment in the country – and the number is expected to rise to 833,000 in 2024.

H.E. Al Marri’s speech was followed by a panel discussion between H.E. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA); H.E. Fahd Hamidaddin, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Saudi Tourism Authority; H.E. Azzan Al Busaidi, Undersecretary of Tourism, Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, Oman; and H.E. Sarah Buhijji, CEO, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority. The session was moderated by Richard Dean, Presenter, Dubai Eye.

During the in-depth discussion, panellists explored the importance of inter-regional initiatives in elevating the GCC tourism industry to the next level, while striking the right balance between collaboration and competition between destinations and nations. The planned GCC Unified Tourist Visa was cited as a key facilitator for the region, alongside factors like sustainability, infrastructure and culture.

Panellists said that the planned unified visa would allow member nations to present the GCC as a connected destination, boosting accessibility and driving KPIs, such as length of stay, average spend and employment. .

Participants also explained that current and future infrastructure will complement the GCC Unified Tourist Visa by enhancing accessibility within and between Gulf nations. In addition to ongoing investment in new and existing airports and cruise terminals, the ministerial speakers highlighted the central role of the upcoming GCC Railway in facilitating and optimising region-wide access for both domestic and international visitors.

Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME, Arabian Travel Market, said: “While it’s clear that healthy competition will continue to play an important role in strengthening the GCC’s world-class tourism offering, it was also encouraging to hear how collaboration is enabling the region to become more than the sum of its parts in terms of attracting global travellers. We are immensely grateful to this year’s ministerial participants, who provided a diverse range of valuable insights into the region’s unified tourism future.”

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