|By K Raveendran|The recent vote by the European Parliament to allow visa-free travel to Europe for UAE nationals and the reciprocal arrangement under which European citizens can visit the UAE without the need for pre-entry visas will be a tremendous boost to bilateral tourism. The development represents a major achievement for the UAE in terms of its standing in international comity.
That this has come despite powerful lobbying by certain interested parties to prevent the European Parliament from putting its stamp of approval to the move makes it all the more palatable. Curiously enough, the lobbies had mounted a concerted campaign on the eve of the crucial vote by raking up the issue of alleged human rights violations. The overwhelming majority by which the European policy setting body approved the move completely blunts the argument by these interests.
The lobbyists had sought to remind that the inclusion of the UAE in the Schengen Arrangement of visa-free travel would be tantamount to the European Union (EU) diluting its commitment to the promotion of human rights and democracy in the countries of the Near and Middle East and that it would raise doubts as to whether Europe still accorded top priority to human rights.
The successful European vote is an emphatic rebuttal to the charges, which in turn represents a major endorsement of the professional approach of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the EU Mission in clarifying the UAE position with respect to these issues. The resolution of the visa-free travel issue is the culmination of a complex process that lasted more than a couple of years and testifies to a consistent approach in this regard.
In fact, there has, of late, been efforts to rake up a similar controversy in connection with the construction of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums as part of an ambitious $26 billion (Dh95.5 billion) plan to develop Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, which also envisages a branch of the New York University.
Recently, activists staged a protest at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where protesters reportedly raised issues of alleged exploitation and unsanitary living conditions of workers. The protest was led by a group called Occupy Museums, which advocates the fight against economic disparities in the art world, along with Gulf Labour, a coalition of artists campaigning against worker abuses.
This was, however, met with assurances by the Guggenheim Foundation that it was constantly in touch with the authorities and there would be no violation of workers’ rights. The Foundation, in fact, pointed out that work was yet to get on to full swing in connection with the development of the museums and that the concerns may be exaggerated.
It is in this context that the Schengen visa arrangement between the UAE and the EU assumes significance beyond routine travel. The hassle-free visa arrangement was in fact the toast of the ITB Summit 2014 at Berlin, the world’s largest tourism fair, where exhibitors and participants have warmed up to the prospects of a tremendous boost in bilateral tourism.
It was noted that this would be particularly helpful to Dubai, which has set a target of welcoming 20 million visitors by 2020, when the emirate will play host to the World Expo.
The planned infrastructure developments, including the addition of large numbers of hotel rooms, creation of new attractions and experiences, Dubai’s locational advantages and connectivity provided by Emirates airline are all expected to help fully leverage the potential of hassle-free travel.