The UAE passport has secured more new visa waivers for its citizens in 2018 than any other country in the world, it was announced on Tuesday.
The UAE, in 23rd place globally on the Henley Passport Index, remains the fastest overall climber on the index, ascending 38 places since 2008.
The UAE has gained access to eight new countries in 2018 alone - China, Ireland, Burkina Faso, Uruguay, Guinea, Tonga, and Honduras.
The country’s reciprocal agreement with China in particular has led the Emirati hospitality and tourist industries to report a 70 percent growth compared to 2017, as Chinese travelers take advantage of their newfound access to the Middle East’s main hub.
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said recently that the country is actively strengthening its diplomatic efforts in a bid to have one of the top five passports in the world, as part of its UAE Vision 2021 plan.
Ryan Cummings, director at Signal Risk and a leading commentator on the MENA region, said: “The visa-waiver agreements signed by the UAE to date are very much in line with the country’s ongoing intention to position itself as the foremost commercial hub in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) zone, where it is increasingly hosting the regional headquarters of multinational firms operating in culturally diverse industries such as healthcare, professional and financial services, and digital technologies.
"These developments also reflect the country’s publicized goal of shifting its economic dependence away from the extractive industry towards tourism, where it aims to create an ambitious 720,000 employment opportunities within the sector by 2028.”
Saudi Arabia issued inaugural tourist visas on April 1, seeking to reach its target of 30 million tourists by 2030 but bucking the trend in the GCC, Oman withdrew the universal issuance of visas-on-arrival in March.
Japan consolidated its spot at the top of the Henley Passport Index, now offering its citizens visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to a record total of 189 destinations, ahead of Singapore and Germany in joint second place, with 188 destinations accessible without a prior visa.
While Schengen Area countries have traditionally topped the index as a result of their open access to Europe, developed Asian nations have been able to secure equally high scores in recent years thanks to their strong international trade and diplomatic relations.
With close to 40 visa-waiver agreements signed by governments since the start of the year, passport holders around the world go into the summer season with greater collective access than ever before, a statement said.
The Henley Passport Index is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and surveys a total of 199 passports against 227 different travel destinations, including countries, territories, and micro-states.