The 'Double the Discovery', a joint initiative of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, is expected to gain traction and the proposed common GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) visa will augur well for the tourism in the region, according to a top official of Qatar Tourism.

"We launched a joint programme called Double the Discovery. We are promoting Qatar and Saudi in one campaign and we identified a few markets to launch this campaign," Saad bin Ali al-Kharji, chairman, Qatar Tourism told the Qatar Economic Forum, powered by Bloomberg.

The joint initiative sought to promote tourism in the neighbouring GCC countries, offering international visitors in both countries the chance to explore the rich cultural and historical wonders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia in a single trip.

"This is taking us to the benefits of collaboration. The competition you see in the region now, we see its cumulative efforts," he said.

Qatar Airways will serve as the official airline partner of the campaign. Visit Qatar and Visit Saudi will identify the main markets for launching and promoting travel packages through tour operators in each market. Discover Qatar and Discover Saudi are the local DMC partners in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, respectively.

The significant growth in tourist numbers in 2023 and hosting 4mn visitors last year demonstrates Qatar’s exceptional tourism offerings across cultural, sports, and recreational activities, as well as top-notch services in transportation, travel, and hospitality sectors.

Expressing the hope that by the end of this year, the GCC might see the unified visa, he said it will also contribute to the number of visitors to this region.

Asserting that time has come for the region to reap the advantage of tourism sector and its growing prospects, he said Qatar is now working on strategies and drafting regulations to enable the private sector and tourism to grow as the GCC region was the fastest growing segment within tourism after the Covid pandemic.

The sector recovered very quickly and the demand has been growing due to good connectivity, according to him.

Ahmed al-Khateeb, Minister of Tourism, Saudi Arabia, said the first step is to make the travel between the GCC countries seamless and then to start working on joint packages and joint flights and joint promotion programmes to put this emerging destination in the global travel map.

"We started with Qatar, and this is going to be a pilot. Actually, we started with Qatar during the World Cup, where if you get a visa, you can access the two countries and the pilot programme was extremely successful, and we will build on this," he said, adding tourists from China, Europe and India are the prime targets.

"We have the plans to reach out to these markets and attract them for various reasons," according to him.

Highlighting that travel and tourism is very important industry globally, he said the GCC region accounts for 10% market share in the total. The GCC countries have started to invest in this very important industry for the future and to unlock the value, he added.

In this regard, he said Saudi Arabia is planning to have 250,000 rooms with global hospitality major Accor planning to double its properties by adding 45 more hotels in the next seven years from the present 41.

The country has undertaken capacity enhancement in the King Salman airport to cater to 12mn people and it is also coming with up with new airline Riyadh Air to improve the air connectivity to Saudi Arabia from major tourist cities across the world.

Saudi Arabia is investing more than S$800bn in the tourism sector over the next seven years as part of efforts to enhance the sector's contribution to 10% of gross domestic product from the present 4.5%. In the last five years, it added 250,000 jobs in the tourism sector, of which 50% was captured by women.

Saudi Arabia's mammoth investment in the tourism sector is through projects such as the Red Sea project, the Diriyah and Qiddiya projects, and other private projects in various regions of the country that contribute to the advancement of the tourism sector.

Sébastien Bazin, Group chairman and chief executive officer, Accor said travel and tourism is the second largest industry with its contribution at 11% of total world GDP and 12% of the world jobs.

"In the next 20 years, the growth (of the tourism sector) will be 5-7% per year due to demographics, emerging middle class and air connectivity," he said, adding "in the next five years, India will change the industry profoundly within India and outside.