Hassan Al Ibrahim Hassan Al Ibrahim

Q & A with Hassan Al Ibrahim, Chief Tourism Development Officer, Qatar Tourism Authority

DESPITE THE CHALLENGES FACING QATAR’S TOURISM INDUSTRY ON THE BACK OF RECENT REGIONAL EVENTS, QATAR TOURISM AUTHORITY (QTA) HAVE BEEN HIGHLY ACTIVE IN ATTRACTING NEW SOURCE MARKETS.

HASSAN AL IBRAHIM, CHIEF TOURISM DEVELOPMENT OFFICER, QTA, HIGHLIGHTS SOME OF THE AUTHORITY’S MOST SUCCESSFUL INITIATIVES.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: In terms of diversifying source markets, what initiatives has QTA implemented to attract a broader range of tourists and how successful have they been?

HASSAN AL IBRAHIM: QTA launched Qatar’s first destination brand at World Travel Market in 2015, marking a milestone in the journey to position the country as a tourism destination.

Following the launch, we have implemented a series of programmes, initiatives and international campaigns to boost visitor arrivals and diversify source markets.

An extensive outreach programme in 2016 attracted hundreds of travel professionals eager to experience Qatar’s authentic tourism offering first hand.

And in the first half (H1) of this year, QTA hosted several mega-fam trips for industry professionals from the US, the UK, Italy, and Finland.

In addition to our efforts to attract trade partners to Qatar, we have also worked on making Qatar easily accessible to global tour operators and travel agents through the Tawash destination training programme.

Conducted entirely online and available in six languages, it provides them with the in-depth knowledge they need to market the destination authoritatively and persuasively to their clients.

Recognising that ease of access is a key determinant of growing visitor arrivals, QTA has also worked with Qatar’s Ministry of Interior to facilitate and streamline entry into the country.

Qatar has waived entry visa requirements for citizens of 80 countries making it the most open country in the region; in another recent move, visitors from other countries can apply for an e-visa on the Qatar visa service online platform.

In an effort to target the millions of Qatar Airways passengers who transit through Hamad International Airport each year, QTA partnered with the national carrier to introduce a unique stopover campaign.

+Qatar, which launched in May, encouraging Qatar Airways passengers to turn a layover into a stopover by offering complimentary four- and five-star hotel accommodation in Qatar.

This campaign leverages the country’s existing free transit visa which allows passengers of all nationalities with a minimum transit of five hours to stay in Qatar for up to 96 hours (four days).

The campaign has resonated well with passengers from all over the world with over 6,000 visitors choosing to stopover in Qatar since its launch.

We have also stepped up efforts to attract cruise tourists to the country.

During the 2016-2017 season, Hamad Port received 28 cruise ships and one mega-yacht, bringing a total of 47,000 passengers and crew to Qatar’s shores.

This represented a 120 percent and 1,000 percent increase in the number of cruise ships and visitors respectively, compared to the previous 2015-2016 season.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: How many visitors did Qatar welcome H1? How does this compare to H1 2016?

HASSAN AL IBRAHIM: As a result of all of the initiatives mentioned above, we have seen a one percent increase in visitor arrivals during the first six months of the year, compared to the same period in 2016.

Arrivals to Qatar from most regions were up in the period between January and April, compared to 2016, signaling that our strategy to diversify visitor source markets is on track.

European markets were the source of greatest growth, up 10 percent compared to the same period of 2016, and arrivals from the US source markets were seven percent higher compared to 2016.

Arrivals from Asia including Oceania grew by four percent, as too did arrivals from other African countries.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: Which source markets is QTA planning to target?

HASSAN AL IBRAHIM: Our plan is to build on the aforementioned growth in European and Asian markets, particularly as the recently-announced visa facilitation measures are set to make Qatar more accessible to visitors from countries in those regions.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: What does the future hold for Qatar’s tourism industry?

HASSAN AL IBRAHIM: QTA is currently preparing to launch the next chapter of the Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy (QNTSS) 2030.

This is being developed in partnership with the private sector and relevant government entities to ensure that the tourism industry is on the right track to fulfil its role in the realisation of Qatar National Vision 2030.

The strategy review process began in April with the core objectives of diversifying source markets, developing new tourism products and services and enhancing the overall tourist experience.

The resulting strategy was set to be announced on 27 September, when Qatar hosts the official UWNTO World Tourism Day celebrations.