By John Irish
Following Oman and Qatar’s recent decision to adopt a common visa stance, GCC countries may adopt a European Schengen-type visa arrangement in the near future.
Speaking at the Arabian Travel Market yesterday (May 07), Qatar tourism officials were keen to stress the importance of a common visa policy between Oman and Qatar. The arrangement currently enables tourists to travel between the two countries within a 4-week period. “Whoever enters Qatar can also request a visa on arrival for Oman. This works on either side. We are currently looking at opening this up for other countries,” said Rashid Mohammed Al Binali, chairman’s office manager for the Qatar Tourism Authority.Travelling in Europe was simplified in 1995 with the introduction of the Schengen visa. As a visitor to the Schengen area, passengers enter one country and travel freely throughout the 15-state zone with no internal border controls.Although the system may appear harder to enforce in the GCC, a number of states are beginning to show an interest, particularly with the growing desire to develop the regional tourism infrastructure.Saudi Arabia, which has launched a comprehensive 5-year tourism plan, sees a common GCC visa policy as not only a viable option, but also a necessity to move the region forward.“We are now in coordination on a GCC level, we are holding meetings between GCC countries and regional tourism authorities,” HH Prince Sultan Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, secretary general of the Supreme Commission for Tourism (SCT), Saudi Arabia told Arabian Business.“The SCT has reviewed Saudi Arabia’s bilateral agreements with different countries, and we’ve inserted tourism into these agreements. Soon our government will be signing new accords regarding tourism development. It is a question that is part of our dream for the GCC,” he added.Prince Sultan highlighted that current common visa policies like the one between Qatar and Oman, would hopefully rub off on the rest of the region, and should they succeed, lead to an overall expansion.Dubai currently possesses a joint visa policy with Oman, as much traffic from the two countries prompted the creation of this accord.Awadh Al Seghayer, acting manger for Dubai’s Cruise Terminal stressed that by adopting such a policy it would benefit not only leisure travellers but also the business community. He confirmed that Dubai was in discussion with the GCC and that the relevant Ministry of Interiors and Immigration were studying this project with a view to creating a sensible model for the future.The possibility of creating a common visa policy follows the establishment of a regional Customs Union in January and ongoing talks to introduce a joint GCC currency.