CHANGES TO TRAN­SIT VISA CHARGES COULD IN­CREASE EARN­INGS FROM TOURISM

Ex­emp­tions for stopovers ex­tended while 96-hour visit will cost Dh50

The National - News - - NEWS EMIRATES - GIL­LIAN DUN­CAN

Sweep­ing changes to the visa sys­tem will help to boost tourism in the UAE by en­cour­ag­ing stopovers, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

The Cabi­net ap­proved up­dates to the sys­tem on Wed­nes­day, in­clud­ing a de­ci­sion to ex­empt tran­sit pas­sen­gers from all en­try fees for the first 48 hours. They can then ex­tend their visa for up to 96 hours, or four days, for Dh50.

Cit­i­zens of sev­eral coun­tries – in­clud­ing the UK and US –al­ready re­ceive a visit visa free of charge on ar­rival. But many do not, in­clud­ing cit­i­zens of In­dia, Pak­istan, most of the Arab world, Africa and South Amer­ica, who re­quire a visa that has to be pro­cessed in ad­vance.

The move fol­lows a de­ci­sion by the Cabi­net in April to give more trav­ellers a visit visa when they ar­rive at any UAE air­port. More than two thirds of the pas­sen­gers who ar­rived at the UAE’s air­ports last year were in tran­sit, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures.

The re­vised fee rep­re­sents a saving of about Dh370 for these pas­sen­gers, ac­cord­ing to Mamoun Hmedan, manag­ing di­rec­tor of Wego Mid­dle East, a travel metasearch en­gine.

The UAE is home to two of the largest air­lines in the world – Emi­rates and Eti­had Air­ways, which carry many mil­lions of pas­sen­gers each year, he said.

“That’s a big sec­tor of the busi­ness of air­lines here, tran­sit­ing peo­ple from one place to an­other,” Mr Hmedan said.

“And I think that is the pur­pose of it. They see the traf­fic that they are gen­er­at­ing and the po­ten­tial they can get if they make it easy for peo­ple to come and ex­pe­ri­ence the des­ti­na­tion,” he said.

Gau­rav Sinha, a tourism ex­pert in Dubai and the chief ex­ec­u­tive of brand­ing agency In­signia, said any pol­icy that makes it eas­ier for tourists to en­joy the UAE is only go­ing to ben­e­fit the in­dus­try.

“It’s the first time in eight years that we have had more sup­ply in ho­tel rooms than de­mand, so these sort of pro­gres­sive pol­icy changes clearly demon­strate the Gov­ern­ment is try­ing its best to boost tourism and en­sure that the hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try, which is a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to GDP, con­tin­ues to grow.”

How­ever, given that many tran­sit pas­sen­gers use air­ports like Dubai and Abu Dhabi only for brief lay­overs, the changes will prob­a­bly not have much of an ef­fect for the or­di­nary trav­eller, said Saj Ah­mad, chief an­a­lyst at Strate­gic Aero Re­search.

“But with this new pol­icy in place, there is a very good chance now that the four ma­jor UAE air­lines will re­visit their of­fers for tran­sit­ing pas­sen­gers to en­sure that the [Dh50 charge for 96 hours] is some­thing that can be utilised, es­pe­cially if peo­ple can be con­vinced it’s worth their time to break up a jour­ney for a few days and en­joy the UAE’s lux­u­ri­ous re­sorts, malls and din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

“This would fit in ex­tremely well with the high-cal­i­bre qual­ity found on UAE air­lines like Emi­rates and Eti­had.”

And tour op­er­a­tors are start­ing to be­come more aware of tran­sit pas­sen­gers and the earn­ing po­ten­tial they bring, ac­cord­ing to Mais Al­nu­aimi, chief ex­ec­u­tive and co-founder of Mun­dana, a Dubai travel agency.

“[They] are be­gin­ning to of­fer pack­ages tai­lor­made for the tran­sit pas­sen­ger, with full­day itin­er­ar­ies tak­ing trav­ellers back to the air­port in time for their next flight,” she said.

Pawan Singh / The Na­tional

Tran­sit pas­sen­gers may use the ex­tended stopover visa to visit the Ma­rina Walk at Dubai Ma­rina

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