CHANGES TO TRANSIT VISA CHARGES COULD INCREASE EARNINGS FROM TOURISM
Exemptions for stopovers extended while 96-hour visit will cost Dh50
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.
Transit passengers may use the extended stopover visa to visit the Marina Walk at Dubai Marina