The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is expected to introduce a unified visa that would allow tourists to visit all six member-countries, which are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.
Najeeb Al-Shaamesi, director general of the Higher Advisory Commission at the GCC, told a local newspaper that a consultative committee had stressed the need for a unified GCC tourist visa to promote tourism in the Gulf region.
“The next meeting of the commission, with members of the consultative committee, will approve the final recommendations, which will then be submitted to the GCC leadership for ratification at the summit in the Qatari capital,” Al-Shaamesi said.
A study recently investigated the economic and technical viability of such a visa and recommended that the GCC summit approves it. Once approved, it would allow a tourist to use the visa issued in one GCC nation to visit all the others.
High-ranking business leaders and travel and tourism experts welcomed the proposal.
“This will be like a Schengen visa that allows a traveler to visit most of the European countries with a single visa,” said Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, a Shoura Council member and former chairman of the Asharqia Chamber. “It is a welcome step and will ease tourist travel across the region. It will provide a much-needed boost for the tourism industry.”
Dammam-based travel industry veteran Abdullah Abu Khamseen described it as a step in the right direction. “This will help promote the region as a good travel destination,” he said.
“Someone traveling from a far-off place generally likes to spend at least two weeks at a tourist destination. If this person comes to Bahrain, there is not much to do beyond four days. He or she would definitely want to spend time in other countries in the region which they cannot do currently with a single visa,” said Abu Khamseen.
He said this would also apply to those traveling to Saudi Arabia for Umrah.
“After spending a week in Saudi Arabia, they can go to Oman, Bahrain, or the UAE with the same visa. This will lead to greater movement of tourists and will boost the region’s local economies,” he said.
“When we combine the unified visa with tourist attractions in the six countries, this region has the potential to become a magnet for international tourists,” said Abu Khamseen.
“The hassle of getting visas from different GCC countries was too much for international travelers and that is the reason for this region not being considered a big travel destination. I am very happy with this decision.”
Praveen Gandhi, executive general manager for Kanoo Travel, was ecstatic.
“I have always wondered why this was not being done,” he told Arab News. “I would even ask the GCC countries to do away with the stamping of passports in each country. Passport pages are filled up from frequent stampings. This is not done in Europe. With the Schengen visa you can arrive in one country where the passport is stamped and then travel across the region without it being stamped again.”
According to Gandhi, the region has immense tourist potential.
“A unified tourist visa will send international travelers heading in this direction.”