RWANDA: Plans for a single GCC tourism visa will be a “fantastic development” for tourism in the region, making it more attractive for visitors and businesses, the head of Dubai Airports has said.
“It’s one of those planks in the travel arsenal that will be greater than the sum of its parts,” Paul Griffiths, chief executive of state-owned Dubai Airports, told The National on the sidelines of the World Travel and Tourism Council’s global summit in Rwanda.
“The development of tourism in other countries in the Middle East will make the whole region more attractive and encourage more businesses.”
The head of the world’s busiest airport by international traffic said he was often asked about competition from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which is developing big tourism projects and building a new airport in Riyadh.
However, he pointed to the evolution of tourism in Europe where travellers often visit several cities within the continent during a single trip.
“The Middle East also has a multiplicity of different things to see or do the difficulty, of course, is that tourism in the Middle East is nowhere near its potential compared to tourism in Europe,” Mr Griffiths said.
“And the more places in the Middle East that can be added to the ‘must-sees’ on the tourism map, the better it will be for every single nation within the GCC.”
Plans for a single unified tourist visa system are being developed with the aim of simplifying travel within the GCC and boosting tourism. The new system is scheduled to be introduced between 2024 and 2025.
The move is a big part of the GCC 2030 tourism strategy, which is aimed at increasing the sector’s economic contribution through increased regional travel and higher hotel occupancy rates.
It intends to boost the number of visitors to GCC countries to 128.7 million visitors by 2030. That is up from 39.8 million last year, which was an increase of 136.6 per cent compared with 2021.
The new programme is expected to be a game-changer for the region, according to hospitality and tourism experts.
There is an untapped market for tourism in the GCC bloc, with many travellers put off by visa restrictions that made reaching some nations difficult, they said.
Asked about the impact of the Israel-Gaza war, that has raged on for nearly a month, on the airport’s traffic, Mr Griffiths said: “The situation in a few parts of the world at the moment is obviously very serious and we don’t want to take anything away from the human suffering, but I would say that Dubai seems to be a place where we’re incredibly resilient and traffic flows always seem to hold up.”
Dubai International Airport is connected to 255 destinations in 104 countries and serves 90 international airlines.
“Because of the huge volumes that come through from so many parts of the world, if one traffic flow is slightly depressed, then it seems to be compensated by another area,” Mr Griffiths said.
The war is undermining tourism across the Levant at the start of the high season, which runs from October to late May.
The sector is a major foreign currency earner in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, all of which border Israel and are under varying degrees of economic pressure.
Brent, the benchmark for two thirds of the world’s oil, has given up most gains since October 7 when Hamas, which rules Gaza, attacked southern Israel, killing about 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostages.
Concerns are mounting about longer-term travel demand as households wrestle with inflation and rising interest rates, and as geopolitical tension, particularly in the Middle East, has started to deter some travellers.
However, Dubai International Airport is optimistic about travel demand holding up.
“Nothing flies off the shelves quicker than if you put ‘limited edition’ on it and, unfortunately, the pandemic put ‘limited edition’ on every airline ticket, so when we were able to open up connectivity to the world again, everyone just said ‘get me on a plane’,” Mr Griffiths said.