The recent update to visa regulations is considered to be the most important factor in building the country’s resilience, according to industry professionals.
In August, Qatar Ministry of Interior, QTA, and Qatar Airways implemented visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries, who will be able to enter the country with a multi-entry waiver, issued free-of-charge at the port of entry.
This latest development belongs to a series of measures that Qatar has executed to facilitate visitor access, with waiving visa requirements considered a critical component of Qatar’s National Tourism Sector Strategy (QTNSS).
Al Ibrahim, pinpointed, “Easing entry to Qatar is a key enabler for the growth of Qatar’s tourism industry.”
Prior to the landmark visa reform, in June QTA launched an e-visa platform to easily enable visitors from all countries to apply for tourist visas.
Moreover, aiming to capitalise on Doha’s position as a hub of air travel, Qatar launched a free transit visa in November 2016, allowing all travellers transiting for a minimum of five hours to leave the airport and enjoy the country for up to 96 hours.
Further building upon this, in partnership with Qatar Airways, QTA unveiled +Qatar in May, an initiative offering transit passengers free accommodation.
As a result of these measures, the number of stopover tourists soared 39 percent in the first six months of the year.
Tareq Derbas, general manager, The St. Regis Doha, concurred that attractive stopover packages will assist in boosting tourism from new and emerging markets, which are increasing as visa restrictions are eased.
In an effort to raise awareness of the country to new and emerging markets, QTA is hosting a vast number of travel professionals on familiarisation trips this year.
Between January – May, some 350 tour operators, travel agents and media from the US, Finland and the UK visited the country on such trips Furthermore, in the last quarter of this year, 40 prominent industry experts from Germany will be welcomed, along with planners specialising in MICE from a variety of key global markets.
Building on this interaction with sellers, Al Ibrahim highlighted yet another initiative enacted to support the travel trade.
He elucidated, “[...] We have also worked on making Qatar easily accessible to global tour operators and travel agents through the Tawash destination programme.
Conducted entirely online and available in six languages, it provides them with the in-depth knowledge they need to market the destination [...].” Thanks to the organisation’s endeavours to engage with the travel trade, in 2016, the number of tour operators selling Qatar increased 21.6 percent.
Moreover, in 2016, QTA inaugurated new representation offices in Italy, the US and Turkey, joining its existing international branches in France, the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and South East Asia.
Confirming the valuable role of QTA, Figen Caglar, director, sales and marketing, The Shangri-La Hotel Doha, explained, “We are actually quite fortunate to have the support of QTA presenting Qatar on a global scale with offices around the world and a lot of activities to promote the destination.
With the recent inclusion of visas on arrival, we believe that it will allow those guests who are with us as part of our stopover package to extend and see more of what Doha has to offer.”
While the QTA is the main driver in attracting tourists, Al Nammari elucidated that all stakeholders share the responsibility of sustaining tourism numbers. He summarised, “We believe that in order for government plans to work well, local businessmen and entities should take their role and support such plans by providing new projects and quality service with reasonable prices, and implementing value for money in tourism.”