Despite ongoing unrest across the Middle East, the Gulf Cooperation Council has experienced strong growth in outbound tourism, with further intentions to implement a common tourism strategy to strengthen cooperation among its member states.
According to a new report by Travel & Tourism Intelligence Centre, GCC nationals made over 37 million outbound trips in 2013, with Saudi Arabia making the most trips with an increase from 18 million in 2012 to 21 million, and is forecast to reach over 33 million by 2018.
As the entire GCC will become an increasingly important economic and trading hub, these countries will also boost their outbound expenditure, which is set to double by 2018 reaching over US$100 billion.
Gillian Kennedy, analyst at TTIC, commented: “Although political unrest brought about by the Arab Spring and the emergence of Islamic State has caused regional uncertainty, GCC tourists continue travelling within the Gulf states mainly for luxury or religious purposes, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE being the most popular destinations.”
With the GCC Council of Tourism Cooperation, there is growing potential for the creation of an integrated regional strategy to strengthen cooperation among the GCC states.
A preparatory meeting for GCC tour operators, followed by the meeting of tourism ministers, will aim to pave the way for further efforts to develop GCC tourism sectors on all levels.
While travel among the GCC states is already visa-free, the GCC is planning to introduce a Schengen-style unified visa for tourists and businessmen from 35 foreign and Arab countries.
As a result, nationals from these countries will be able to visit the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman under a single visa once the system is finalised and implemented by 2015.