The Schengen nations' decision to afford visa-free status to Emiratis is a sign of how the UAE is viewed by the world.
Why the world is welcoming Emiratis
Emiratis are keen travellers, and they have a range of interests and the financial wherewithal that makes for welcome tourists. Yet, until now, the process of obtaining the necessary documents to travel to many popular international tourist destinations has been frustrating. That started to change late last year, when the United Kingdom, often jokingly referred to as “the eighth emirate”, approved an electronic visa waiver system for Emiratis wanting to visit Britain for up to six months.
Another breakthrough in the ease of travel came last month with the announcement that Etihad Airlines passengers to the United States could undergo immigration and customs pre-clearance at Abu Dhabi airport, allowing them to bypass long queues at the other end of their journey. Now, the European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to allow UAE passport holders visa-free travel, opening the doors to 26 Western European nations that are signatories to the Schengen agreement. When the decision is formally ratified by the Council of the European Union, it will mean easier access to 22 of the 28 EU states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
This is, of course, good news for anybody who has had to endure the time-consuming task of gathering documents and photographs and attending interviews, often for more than one destination per trip. But the benefit is not just one-sided; making access to their countries easier will almost certainly translate into greater tourist income for European travel operators, attractions, hotels and high-end retailers.
According to a 2012 study by the Arabian Travel Market, Emirati tourists spend an average of $3,280 (Dh12,050) a day while on holiday overseas. It also showed that at least 40 per cent of Emiratis flew business class when they travelled, while another study revealed that Emiratis spent a total of Dh7.2 billion on shopping while overseas in 2012, plus Dh6.7bn on accommodation and Dh4.8bn at restaurants.
While the Schengen decision is mutually advantageous to travellers and the countries they visit, it also reflects the high value that European nations place on their relationship with the UAE and the efforts made by the leadership here to foster strong international ties. That more and more nations are putting out the welcome mat for Emiratis is tangible evidence that the UAE is seen as an important player on the world stage.