Policymakers discuss GCC unified tourist visa as key growth driver

Policymakers discuss GCC unified tourist visa as key growth driver

Sustainability, infrastructure and culture will take tourism industry to next level

Streamlining the GCC’s thriving tourism industry by connecting destinations was atop the agenda at the 31st edition of the Arabian Travel Market as policymakers gathered to discuss the future of regional travel.

His Excellency Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri, UAE Minister of Economy, noted the tourism sector’s growing contribution to the Emirates’ economy in his opening comments on ATM 2024’s Global Stage in Dubai earlier this week. 

“According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), our tourism sector has been a dynamic force within our economy, contributing an impressive 11.7% to GDP [in 2023], amounting to 220 billion UAE dirhams,” H.E. Al Marri told attendees. 

“For 2024, the forecast is set even higher, with an anticipated contribution of 12% to the [UAE’s] GDP, equating to 236 billion UAE dirhams.”

A panel discussion preceded the address with H.E. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority; H.E. Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority; H.E. Azzan Al Busaidi, Undersecretary of Tourism at the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism in Oman; and H.E.Sarah Buhijji, CEO of the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority. 

The session was moderated by Dubai Eye presenter, Richard Dean.

During the in-depth discussion, the ministerial 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 such as 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. 

Speakers noted they would continue to ensure that the travel industry positively impacts local businesses, communities and ecosystems, contributing to the long-term sustainability of tourism across the region.

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 she was immensely grateful to this year’s ministerial participants, who provided a diverse range of valuable insights into the region’s unified tourism future.

“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.”