The Dubai Museum. The new five-year tourist visa introduced by the UAE government is expected to give a boost to the country’s tourism and aviation sectors. Image Credit: Asghar Khan/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The new five-year tourist visa introduced by the UAE government is expected to give a boost to the country’s tourism and aviation sectors, bringing in more visitors and encouraging repeat visits.

The UAE Cabinet on Monday announced a new visa system that will allow tourists of all nationalities to get five-year visas to the UAE, with multiple entries. Analysts said the change will especially help visitors who arrive to the UAE to visit family and friends.

Currently, tourists can get visas to the UAE for 30 days or 90 days, with the option of being either single or multiple entry, and analysts said that while Dubai, especially, attracts millions of international visitors, many of them visit just once.

Nikola Kosutic, research manager at market research firm Euromonitor International, said the tourism sector in the UAE is struggling to get repeat visitors.

“In our research, Dubai is ranked number five in the world in terms of international arrivals, so Dubai compares to destinations such as London, Singapore, and Bangkok, and these cities have a much higher proportion of repeated arrivals,” he told Gulf News.

“There’s this huge number of tourists who come to Dubai or to the UAE as a one-off visit. It’s on everyone’s bucket list; see Burj Khalifa once and that’s it. And once they do, very few come back in comparison to some [of the other cities].”

With a five-year visa, though, visitors especially those from the Middle East, Africa, and some Asian countries, can visit multiple times without having to go through the process of getting a visa beforehand. Currently, only citizens of certain countries, including the US, Canada, the European Union, and some Asian countries, do not have to obtain visas beforehand and can get one immediately on arrival.

In the past few years, this has also been extended to include markets such as China and Russia, as the UAE government targets more visitors. The government had long pointed the tourism industry as an area of focus, especially as it attempts to diversify the economy.

As part of that focus on the tourism industry, the UAE has also been developing theme parks to attract tourists seeking an adrenalin rush and to increase tourism offerings to visitors. Despite that, theme parks such as Dubai Parks and Resorts have not been meeting their targets for visitor arrivals, and the sector has generally seen a slowdown as global economic growth declines.

Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said the latest move to offer five-year visas will boost the competitiveness of the UAE’s economy as it supports the tourism industry and other related sectors.

Malik agreed that the new visa scheme will encourage repeat visitors, and said that while she did not expect an immediate boost in arrivals, the move will maintain the competitiveness of the tourism industry.

Euromonitor’s Kosutic said that the visa scheme will especially benefit those who visit the UAE to see family and friends.

“This is where we see the biggest impact,” he said. “The assumption is that anyone who comes [to the UAE] will spend some money. Obviously, friends and relatives who come spend less per day than a tourist, but they stay longer … so it evens out.”

Experts also pointed that the visa measures come as neighbouring Saudi Arabia attempts to open up its tourism sector through the introduction of tourist visas. In September, the Kingdom started making tourist visas available for citizens of certain countries and went on a promotional drive to showcase attractions in Saudi Arabia.

Less than four months later, on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s government said that it will also allow visitors who have valid visas from the US, the UK, or the European Union to get visas on arrival.

Analysts said that with some competition from Saudi’s tourism sector, the five-year visa scheme for UAE visitors will ensure further growth in arrivals.