Viva la Visa

visa liberalization

A country’s visa regime is often central to the success of its tourism industry, provided there are necessary infrastructure measures in place to facilitate travel or host visitors and unique […]

A country’s visa regime is often central to the success of its tourism industry, provided there are necessary infrastructure measures in place to facilitate travel or host visitors and unique attractions to pull in tourists from all over the world. It is safe to say that Qatar meets all of these criteria in that it has one of the world’s highest-ranked national airlines in Qatar Airways, one of the world’s best airports in Hamad International Airport, and an abundance of hotels ranging from moderate to five-star, ultra-luxury stays. With a rich culture that is soon to be highlighted on the world stage with the World Cup, the one remaining piece to solve this puzzle was the country’s visa regime.

There were a few areas in particular for which the new visa regime needed to be simplified and improved, and all of these areas have been addressed by the government and relevant authorities. First comes the transit visa, which is a very recent reality for travelers coming for a layover or short stay in Qatar. Right now, the transit visa is available for people who have a layover in Qatar five hours or longer, which represents a decrease from the original rule that mandated an eight-hour layover in order to be eligible. These travelers will have to go to the arrivals immigration desk in Hamad International Airport with proof of their onward journey to get the visa. This represents a very simplified, hassle-free, no pre-planning required process in which user ease is the name of the game. In a liberalizing move, the transit visa is open to travelers of all nationalities. However, another stipulation is that the travelers seeking the transit visa must be flying with Qatar Airways. In the future, Qatar would do well to also open up this possibility to travelers using other airlines as well, for it could reach an even higher number of transit passengers to augment their tourism inflows and promote further tourism in the country. It has been long known that getting people to travel to the country for the first time is a tough first step. The idea is that once these people spend some time in the country, outside of the airport, they will find it favorable enough to come back with Qatar as their final destination.

In addition to the transit visa, the Qatar Tourism Authority announced a new, streamlined process for the easy entry of cruise ship passengers into the country. This is especially significant due to the fact that Doha Port is being completely repurposed to serve as a cruise ship hub. Over 50,000 visitors are projected to visit Doha Port through cruise ships in the upcoming season. Increased cooperation between relevant security and cruise personnel and advancements in technology are responsible for the streamlined process, which allows for all the necessary passenger details to be shared with immigration officials prior to the ship’s berth in Doha. Once they arrive, they can disembark and enjoy the city.

These advancements are especially important for a few reasons. For one, they allow Qatar access to a previously untapped reserve of travelers. In the past, people experiencing long layovers were relegated to the confines of the airport or cruise ship, unable to feel the fabric of Qatar, participate in Doha life, or contribute to the economy. In no uncertain terms, transit visa travelers can become a new revenue stream for Qatar as they now have tourists looking to explore Doha, go shopping at one of the advanced and world-class malls, and perhaps buy dinner or have a night out at one of the five-star hotel facilities. For those with longer stays, this opens the possibility of booking hotel nights and eating multiple meals within the country. All of these are new possibilities borne out of this visa regime, as previously transit passengers were not afforded this opportunity to the disadvantage of Qatar and the local economy. With sustainability as a pillar of the country’s Qatar National Vision 2030, the transit visa looks to establish a new, sustainable stream of revenue through the tourism industry.

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