DUBAI — The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are looking to launch a ‘Schengen-style” visa for tourists — which is expected to boost revenues and footfall for all countries in the region.
Speaking during the Arabian Travel Market, Fatima Al Sairafi, Minister of Tourism in Bahrain, said discussions have been taking place at the ministerial level among GCC nations on how to achieve a unified single visa, reports Khaleej Times.
“We see that happening very soon because we see people flying from abroad to Europe usually spending their time in several countries rather than in one country. We really saw the value this can bring not to each country but all of us,” Al Sairafi said during a panel discussion on “The Future of Travel for the GCC”, held at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
“We targeted 8.3 million tourists for 2022 but achieved 9.9 million visitors because we co-promoted Bahrain along with the UAE and other GCC markets. It resulted in an increased number of tourists. When we co-promoted at a unified destination through 100-plus tour operators, the footfall also increased and the diversity of nationalities of tourists also increased,” she said.
Abdullah Al Saleh, undersecretary for the Ministry of Economy, said during the panel discussion that all GCC countries believe that the tourism sector is vital for the growth of their economies.
“We have one common market and unified policies. In the tourism sector, the GCC can benefit from both supply and demand sides by having umbrella regulations, policies, and procedures to facilitate growth. Now with increased flow of people among GCC, it is becoming smoother with time,” he said.
Al Saleh added: “On the demand side, GCC countries believe that if they provide a good experience for visitors especially long-distance visitors coming to this region, instead of visiting one country, there will be a programme to maximise their visits to more than one country in the region. The visitors will be happier by visiting several countries without restrictions, facilitating cross borders travel, having unified one package to visit different countries in GCC,” he said.
Ministers have devised a unified GCC tourism strategy to increase the contribution of the sector to the GCC GDP, bolster the employment of nationals, boost competitiveness, and ensure a sustainable tourism sector, the undersecretary added.
“We have an agreement within GCC on how to promote the GCC as a unique destination for tourists by launching a new application and website that promotes all the destinations within the GCC and also promotes unique events, as well as how we go and participate in events in other countries and under one umbrella. It is part of the comprehensive vision of the GCC that we have one goal and one vision.”
Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of Saudi Tourism Authority, said that these days, travellers don’t think of a country but a region.
“I believe travellers of tomorrow will look always at multiple stops, routes, and regions,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia greatly benefited from Fifa World Cup in Qatar and this reflects that joint offerings can be promoted and benefit all.