GCC countries are planning a single visa system that would simplify travel within the region and boost tourism across all six of its member states - Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar, said media reports citing a senior UAE minister.
A pan-GCC visa could be the future of tourism, stated UAE Economy Minister Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri adding that the new visa regime could be introduced “very soon.”
He was speaking at the Future Hospitality Summit being held in Abu Dhabi.
The idea of a “Schengen-style” visa for the GCC was highlighted earlier this year at the Arabian Travel Market exhibition held in Dubai in May, reported the Boomberg.
Bahrain’s Minister of Tourism, Fatima Al-Sairafi, said that talks have been underway at the ministerial level across GCC states to introduce a unified single visa.
"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 only to each country, but also to all of us," explained Al Sairafi during a panel discussion on “The Future of Travel for the GCC”.
At present, only citizens of GCC countries enjoy visa-free travel to countries within the bloc.
This announcement has come as a major boost to the expatriate residents, who account for over 50 per cent of the GCC population.
They, currently, need to apply for a visa to travel to each member state, with some nationalities getting visa-free or visa-on-arrival privileges.
"I think that [a single GCC visa] is something which has been on the table. It's been complementing all the GCC strategies on tourism," Bin Touq was quoted as saying by The National.
"Hopefully, we are going to see something around a pan-GCC visa, which will allow easier mobility of people within the GCC. A resident of Saudi [Arabia], for instance, can enter the UAE and vice versa. I think that's where we see the future of GCC tourism," he added.
The UAE has built the infrastructure over the years to accommodate all these types of tourism, he added.