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Sun 8 Jul 2007 12:00 AM

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Hope for French visa process

There could be light at the end of the tunnel for residents of Dubai applying for visas to visit France.

There could be light at the end of the tunnel for residents of Dubai applying for visas to visit France.

Not only is a dedicated French consulate planned for the emirate but it is hoped the new French Government will streamline visa processing.

"We want to open a consulate near the British Embassy in Dubai - it's in the pipeline - maybe one year from now," said the director of the Maison de la France Middle East regional office, Pascal Lepêtre. "The difficulties in obtaining a visa is the first and major obstacle to increasing travel to France from this region and I think that if we could make an announcement saying when new consulate would open, then this would help."

Lepêtre was speaking to ATN after one of the magazine's photographers experienced difficulties in obtaining a visa to visit France.

The Dubai visa office only issues 30 tokens per day to gain access to the office to apply for a visas, and so after the photographer's third unsuccessful visit, she was forced to camp out overnight to ensure she was one of the first 30 people in the visa queue the following morning.

"[But] it's not just the treatment of the application - it's also the delay in getting the application processed. It takes 12 days," conceded Lepêtre. "We have to consult with the Ministry of the Interior in France and the Schengen Visa people. So things won't change overnight."

However, with France being run by a new government, Lepêtre was hopeful of reform, but said "changes won't happen overnight". He would continue to lobby Maison de la France and the French Government for visa streamlining, he added.

"We don't know if the Middle East outbound market is going to be one of the priorities for the new government, because it's not one of the largest markets. But it's growing and if we want it to grow more, we need to make sure it's easier to get people a visa," he said.

On a brighter note, Lepêtre said he expected strong bookings from the Middle East to France this summer, particularly as travellers looked to Europe as an alternative to war-torn Lebanon; a trend witnessed last year.

"We also expect to see ex-pats from Australia, New Zealand, France, South Africa, Ireland and the UK, who are living in the Gulf, to visit France for the Rugby World Cup in September and October," he said.

Promotions targeting this specific market will run during the summer.

Maison de la France has also introduced two Middle East dedicated web sites found at www.me.franceguide (English language) and www.arabia.franceguide (Arabic version).

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