UK eyes big GCC tourist flow with new visa rules
Dubai, December 26, 2013
UK tourism is likely to benefit from the visa rule changes for high-spending UAE, Oman and Qatar nationals with some big players expecting a 40 per cent jump in Emirati tourist flow in 2020.
Effective from the first quarter of 2014, citizens from these three Gulf states visiting the UK, will be able to obtain a free electronic visa waiver 48 hours prior to their planned departure, which replaces the current visa application process.
The new visa waiver applies for short-term visits only with a six-month validity period, however those applying to study in the UK or enter for business, will still need to apply for a visa.
The waiver is also set to be extended to Kuwaiti nationals later next year, said an industry expert.
“London is a perennial favourite among GCC travellers who flock to the capital in the summer months in search of cooler temperatures as well as to take advantage of the fantastic shopping, entertainment options and luxury hotel accommodation. VisitBritain’s (The British government-backed national tourism agency) 2020 forecast increase of up to 40 per cent more UAE tourists choosing to spend time in the city, is great news for UK tourism,” said Mark Walsh, the portfolio director, Reed Travel Exhibitions, the organiser of the upcoming Arabian Travel Market (ATM).
The leading travel exhibition in the Middle East, ATM will be held at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre from May 5 to 8, 2014.
We are anticipating a surge of exhibition enquiries from UK-based travel and hospitality companies following these recent visa rule changes, stated Walsh.
“Following the announcement we have already received a number of enquiries from UK-based companies eager to capitalise on the opportunity with first-time presence at ATM 2014, and we expect increased participation from a diverse cross-section of tourism and hospitality companies representing the UK as well,” he added.
According to John Calthorpe, the managing director, Pavilion Expo, the organiser of the UK Pavillion at ATM, UK representation at the show will be buoyed by the news.
“The 37 per cent increase in visitors that VisitBritian announced from last year, has the possibility of being dwarfed by this visa waiver programme, with the initiative encouraging more frequent short breaks from the region,” he remarked.
The UK Pavilion is also increasing year on year in terms of size and exhibitors.
“ATM 2014 will see the biggest and most popular UK Pavilion to date - 144 square metres and 34 exhibiting companies. London and Scotland are two of most active participants but we are hoping add other UK cities,” said Calthorpe.
As per UK government data, the visa applications from the UAE, Oman and Qatar are growing year-on-year led by Kuwaiti visitors who accounted for more than 63,000 applications in 2012, followed by the UAE (30,148), Qatar (20,490) and Oman (12,596).
VisitBritain reports a record 530,000 visitors from the GCC landed on British shores in 2012, representing a 6 per cent increase on 2011. Boosted by global interest in the London Olympics, the UK enjoyed a record year for tourism last year with $30.46 billion injected into the economy from overseas visitors, of which $1.97 billion came from the GCC countries.
Visitors from the GCC are also among the highest spenders, with an average of $3,417 per person per visit and the UK is second most visited destination by UAE residents with the number of visits doubling in the last decade.
“The UK and the UAE share very close ties and London has always been a popular destination for UAE citizens, as well as visitors from Oman and Qatar. Lifting the visa requirements will allow for increased travel opportunities benefiting numerous sectors such as travel, hospitality, retail and entertainment,” commented Debrah Dhugga, the general manager of the five-star Mayfair situated boutique hotel, Dukes London.
Walsh said the outbound travel agencies and specialist tour operators in the UAE, as well as the country’s carriers, Emirates and Etihad Airways, were also expected to place increased emphasis and marketing spend on UK travel and routes once the new system is officially up-and-running.-TradeArabia News Service