The Schengen-style tourist visa being planned by the GCC countries will attract more long-haul tourists from Europe, the US and Asian destinations and increase the length of stay to over 10 days.
Travel industry executives noted that many religious tourists going to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will also travel to the UAE and vice-versa.
Officials and industry players noted that tourists of the future consider regions rather than individual destinations, as travel has become easier and faster now.
While speaking during the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, Fatima Al Sairafi, Minister of Tourism in Bahrain, said discussions have been taking place at the ministerial level among the regional countries on how to achieve a unified single visa – similar to the Schengen style.
“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.
The Schengen visa is the world’s largest visa-free zone, allowing unrestricted movement to foreign tourists across 26 countries.
Around 879 million trips for tourism were made by residents of EU countries in 2021, according to the European Office for Statistics.
“The travel sector will definitely benefit as it will increase the opportunity of spontaneous travel and will introduce a new segment of city breaks,” said a Wizz Air Abu Dhabi spokesperson.
Muzzammil Ahussain , CEO, Almosafer, said people coming from Europe, the US and China take long flights so it will benefit them and they will be able to visit not just one country but the entire region.
“So why would you come to just one country? Yes, Saudi is huge, UAE has a lot to offer to tourists. But if you’re actually in the region, you want to visit multiple countries. There is already a lot of work being done like UAE residents can go to Saudi and Saudis have done a good job by offering visas on arrival and e-visa. But the unified visa will make life much easier for tourists,” Ahussain said.
In addition, a lot of people will come to the region from India, Pakistan and other countries. “People coming for Umrah can go to other parts of the region as well,” said the Saudi-based Almosafer chief.
Sunil Panwar, director for business development, Rayna Tourism, said a unified visa will “definitely increase flow as it will benefit the whole region.”
“Over the past few years, the length of stay has increased from four to seven days. And once the unified visa is introduced, it may go up to 15 days. It’ll definitely result in increased tourist spending as well,” he added.