The Sultanate of Oman has launched an e-visa process, which in its first phase in being made available for 67 tourist countries and up to 116 professions.
The project is aimed at speeding up the application and fee payment process through an online portal, and link it with relevant ministries, such as the Ministry of Manpower with regards to work-permits, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in relation to the validity of the commercial register and the Ministry of Civil Service in respect of government visas for foreign civil servants.
The new project currently has two visa types,tourist and residence visas, Hilal bin Ahmed al- Busaidi, director general of passports and residency said that work is underway for the GCC residents list.
Once the next phase has been implemented, it is expected that all nationalities will be allowed to apply online.
This new system will also allow hotels, travel agents, and tour operators apply for e-visas for their guests online, via the Royal Oman Police (ROP) website, with the fees remaining the same.
Oman's tourism sector saw three million tourists enter the country in 2016, with predictions that it will reach 4.7 million by 2020, reported the state's news agency.
Meanwhile,Indian Ocean Islands are fast becoming the new hotspot for Arab travellers, as bookings to the nearby tropics flood in, according to regional travel agents.
Figures from the Maldives Tourism Board say trips to the Islamic country by Arab tourists rose more than 22 percent between 2009 and 2010, despite the impact of the global financial crisis.
Holidays to the Seychelles by Middle East travellers have also surged, official data shows, with visits from GCC residents by the end of September this year beating those recorded for the whole of 2010.
Located on the East of Africa, the Indian Ocean Islands including Comoros, Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives and Madagascar, offer a tropical climate all year round, and have long been popular among holiday-makers and honeymooners around the world.
“We’re talking about [growth of] 15 to 25 percent a year in holidays to the Indian Ocean Islands,” said Frederic Bardin, senior vice president at Emirates Holidays. “Good year, bad year, it doesn’t matter, people just want to go there.
I think there are a lot of Arabs who have just recently discovered the region.
The top destinations for Arabs are still in Europe, but the Seychelles is probably creeping into the top 10 now.
Basel Abu Alrub, managing director of Dubai-based travel agency U travel, said GCC residents are attracted to the region Islands for its close proximity to the Gulf, and ability to accommodate Islamic customs.
Proximity is a big factor, as the islands are only four hours away.
Islam is also spread in some of the islands, which appeals to the GCC traveller and makes them feel at home.
Many hotel properties offer Al Hilal food, and they also recognise that privacy is an issue.”
Earlier this month, Abu Dhabi’s flagship carrier Etihad Airways launched its first flights from the UAE to the Maldives and the Seychelles, in a bid to tap into the growing market.
Company executives said the destinations were “highly desirable” among Arab travellers, making flight connectivity to the region “fundamental” for Etihad’s growth.
In March, Dubai-based Emirates Airline announced a 100 percent increase in the frequency of flights between Dubai and the Seychelles, with as many as 14 flights per week expected by the end of the year.
As compared to January 2010, we are increasing the capacity between Dubai and the Seychelles by 350 percent, said Majid Al Mualla, senior vice president, Commercial Operations - West Asia and Indian Ocean.
The increase in frequency is the fruit of all our efforts and investment in promoting the Seychelles across our network. Our recent campaigns have stepped up demand for the route as well as opened up new feeder markets.
Travel agents expect that airlines will further boost the number of flights to the region in the coming years, increasing demand for new hotel properties.
The number of Arab visitors to the region will continue to increase in the range of 15-20 percent, Alrub said, boosting the need for mid-level properties in particular.