Muscat: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states are expected to approve a unified tourist visa this year to diversify their economies and boost mutual trade, an official report said.
A report of the Higher Advisory Commission at the GCC stated that this would allow tourists to obtain a visa from any of the member states, to enter all six countries. However, this would be subject to the financial and employment status of the applicant. The unified tourist visa has been in consideration for the last 10 years but was cleared only recently. The major stumbling blocks for the clearance included security, and illegal immigrants who were taking undue advantage of the relaxation.
However, a Muscat-based GCC official said that only citizens of select countries would be granted the unified visa. However, he refused to name these countries.
"Citizens of politically stable countries, our trade partners and investors will be on top of the list. But we will be very strict on their financial status and employment background, to ensure that such tourists would not become a burden to us," the official told Times of Oman.
He added that the move would diversify the economies of the bloc as member states are interested in attracting more tourists to the region. Oman will particularly benefit from the single visa policy as tourists entering the country from Dubai would not need to apply for a separate visa to enter the Sultanate.
Dubai attracted more than 10 million non-GCC tourists in 2013 for its extravaganza entertainment, and large scale shopping centres.
Oman received 1.2 million non-GCC tourists in 2013. It is expanding its aviation industry by building three new airports, and expanding two more. It is also upgrading its road network, and plans are afoot to build several shopping malls and five international hotel chains.
The local hospitality industry's operators welcomed this development stating that the GCC unified tourist visa policy will boost their trades.
"We are lucky to have a country like Dubai that is less than an hour away by flight. According to our experience, many tourists in Dubai have been interested in visiting Muscat, but were unable to do so because they had to apply for a separate visa. With the single visa policy, we expect to tap into the Dubai tourism drive," Khalifa Al Sharji, owner of Sunset Tours, told Times of Oman. The GCC decision on visa is also expected to boost hotel occupancy in Oman which is at an average of 66 per cent throughout the year.
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