Northman & Sterling

GCC Tourism Officials Plan for Major Event Coordination Ahead of New Visa System


GCC tourism authorities emphasized the need for a strategic alignment of major events across the region, as they prepare to introduce a unified visa system. Khalid Al Midfa, chairman of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, highlighted the primary goal of increasing tourists’ stay duration during a discussion at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

“The introduction of a unified visa is anticipated to significantly enhance accessibility and convenience for travelers, potentially launching later this year or the next,” Al Midfa noted. He added, “We want [leisure travelers] to combine their holidays here within the GCC and make it easy for them, so they can buy a package.”

In 2022, the GCC welcomed 39.8 million visitors, demonstrating a robust 136.6% growth from the previous year. With the aim of reaching 128.7 million visitors by 2030, aligning mega events is seen as a crucial strategy. “We might need to align some of the biggest mega events … to work out in terms of timing, so we don’t have overlapping events, and this will be definitely one of the things that we are going to work on with the rest of the GCC countries,” Al Midfa explained.

Fahd Hamidaddin, chief executive of the Saudi Tourism Authority, also supported the idea during the panel. “If we want to get the Taylor Swifts of the world, we can collaborate and get them to the region if we do it together,” he stated, emphasizing the potential of attracting globally renowned figures through cooperative efforts.

Unlike the Schengen visa, the GCC visa is tailored specifically to boost tourism, with distinct objectives and structures focused on facilitating easier access to the member countries.

In addition to visa innovations, GCC nations are enhancing connectivity and infrastructure. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has been working on improving its borders and recently introduced an e-visa for GCC residents. A significant infrastructure project, the GCC railway, is set to connect major cities across the member states by 2030, promising to be a transformative development for regional connectivity.

By coordinating major events and improving infrastructure, the GCC aims to position itself as a premier international tourism destination, ready to host world-class figures and events.