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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

UAE Cabinet approves day visas at airports to boost tourism numbers

About 70 per cent of passengers who passed through the country's airport last year were in transit

Dubai airport with a view of the city. Jürgen Effner / AP
Dubai airport with a view of the city. Jürgen Effner / AP

A new plan to give more travellers a visit visa when they arrive at any UAE airport will encourage them to explore the country and boost tourism spending.

The move, outlined by the UAE Cabinet on Sunday, is a part of a broader plan to encourage transit passengers to stay in the country longer and visit its landmarks.

At present, citizens of India, Pakistan, most of the Arab world, Africa and South America require a visa processed well in advance. Visitors from India and Iran are most likely to use transit visas.

On Sunday, the cabinet formed a working group, led by the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, to prepare the new policy considering the possible positive effects it will have on the tourism sector and the economy in general.

It said 70 per cent of the total passengers who passed through the UAE's airports in 2017 were in transit.

The new policy aims to enhance transit visa procedures to enable stopover passengers to enjoy a day out in the country, boosting the tourism industry, state news agency Wam reported.

It will list visa fees and mechanisms for increasing the number of stopover visitors, as well as ways to promote the country's tourism attractions.

The move comes just a day after the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing presented a plan to attract more transit passengers to visit Dubai, a measure that could bring in an extra 1 million tourists.

The plan also included a timeshare concept.

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“It will definitely help the UAE economy,” Fardan Haneef, operations manager at Deira Travel and Tourist Agency, said about the new visa policy. “I would say everyone will get their equal share because when people are out they will be spending. For instance, when people come out of the airport they will be shopping, they will go to restaurants. If you look at it, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

In 2017, Abu Dhabi maintained a seven per cent increase in tourism numbers from 2016, spurred by an increase in Chinese visitors.

Government agencies are encouraging tourists to visit different emirates and spend more time in the UAE. The country has expanded its cultural offerings with the 2016 opening of the Dubai Opera House, the 2017 opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, the recent expansion of Dubai’s historic Al Seef district and the 2018 opening of Qasr Al Hosn fort, the oldest structure in Abu Dhabi.

“We feel the new relaxation in transit visa regulation will help boost tourism demand in the country and increase footfall to key tourism attractions in the cities, closer to the airports,” said Rashid Aboobacker, a senior director at TRI Consulting in Dubai. “A good number of transit passengers are likely to prefer to take a break between their long flights to relax and explore what the country has to offer, before continuing to their destinations. We believe that families, particularly those with kids, are likely to make use of this opportunity.”

Ramon Peñas / The National
Ramon Peñas / The National

Tour operators welcomed the move, expecting an increase in one-day tours like desert safaris.

City attractions, like Louvre Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque or the Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall are also likely to see a significant increase in footfall.

“In Dubai, the first area anybody goes is the Burj Khalifa because there’s only one in the world,” said Khalil Hossein, a manager at the Dubai-based tour operators Hamdan Tourism. “One day is not enough for Dubai but if it’s one day, the best choice is going to the desert.”

“Tourists will have the most to benefit because they won’t need any tour packages. Here, everything is easy to use.”

Passengers transiting through Abu Dhabi with layovers of more than four hours are already able to apply in advance for a 14-day transit, with the exception of citizens from Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Niger and Yemen.

“We welcome this announcement,” said a statement from the Pakistan Embassy. “It is significant for our nationals as a large number of Pakistanis travel through UAE airports including Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. It will provide them with an opportunity to visit this beautiful country during their transit stay in the UAE.”