Qatar has become the "most open country" in the Middle East and the 8th most open in the world in terms of visa facilitation, according to the World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) recently updated visa openness rankings.
The high ranking reflects a string of visa facilitation measures introduced by Qatar, including allowing nationals of some 88 countries to enter Qatar visa-free and free-of-charge. As a result, Qatar’s openness score has leapt by 71.3 points since 2014, when it ranked 177th.
Already, Qatar’s increased openness is showing in the growing number of visitors from markets which can now access the country visa-free. Notable increases in arrival volumes in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017 came from India (18%), China (43%) and Russia, which grew most significantly with a 366% increase.
Hassan al-Ibrahim, Qatar Tourism Authority’s acting chairman said, “Openness and ease of access are crucial elements of the visitor experience. That is why, in addition to the accelerated development of our tourism offering, we have committed to providing a seamless experience to our visitors even as they are planning for their journey.
“We will continue to work with our partners on further facilitating entry to Qatar through additional streamlining of the immigration process at Qatar’s ports of entry, as well as ensuring that all visitor visas and visa procedures are electronic.”
The UNWTO also measures the mobility of a country’s citizens, or the extent to which citizens are affected by other countries’ visa policies - with highly mobile citizens being able to travel easily and seamlessly to most other countries.
While Qatar currently ranks 106th in the world in terms of mobility, it is worth noting that 20 of the countries benefiting from the Qatari visa waiver are already reciprocating.
Brigadier Mohammed Ahmed al-Ateeq, director general, General Directorate of Passport at the Qatar’s Ministry of Interior, said, “MOI has long been committed to working with its partners to enhance the visitor experience while optimising resources. We are delighted to see the results in this remarkably improved openness ranking, which places Qatar in a stronger position to negotiate better mobility for its citizens.”
Qatar embarked on a journey to enhance visa facilitation and ensure Qatar is ready to welcome the world in 2014, when QTA commissioned UNWTO to conduct a visa facilitation study.
“Qatar has implemented and overachieved the recommendations of the study, setting an example by spearheading safe and seamless travel, enhancing the visitor experience and better placing itself to improve mobility for its citizens,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.
In September 2016 an agreement was signed between QTA, Qatar Airways, the Ministry of Interior and VFS Global to create an online platform for processing visa applications and issuing e-visas.
The new service, launched in 2017, has significantly eased visitor access to Qatar, offering a more efficient and transparent visa application system, with standardised fees.
In the same month, a new process to facilitate disembarkation of cruise passengers was put in place, and before the end of the year, Qatar had launched a free, 96-hour transit visa, doubling the amount of time stopover passengers could remain in the country and enjoy its offerings.
In August 2017, Qatar applied the new visa waiver policy for nationals of more than 80 countries. In September 2017, Qatar made an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) available to visitors of all nationalities who hold valid residence permits or visas from either the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or the Schengen countries.
This system allows eligible visitors to obtain an ETA by completing a simple online application prior to travel at www.qatarvisaservice.com.
According to the UNWTO, 60% of the world’s population is required to obtain a traditional visa prior to departure to destinations in the Middle East.
Europe continues to be among the most restrictive destination, requesting on average the highest proportion of the world’s population to obtain a traditional visa prior to departure (66%).
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2019