How this country went from 177th to 8th most open in the world in just four years. Source: Shutterstock.
EVER SINCE the Middle East took a huge hit from the oil crash, the region’s governments have been ramping up efforts to diversify the economy.
In a bid to bag tourism dollars instead, Middle Eastern countries began investing more in turning the region into a vacation destination.
This includes teching up and developing its cities, expanding its number of shopping malls and attractions, launching world-famous brands of theme parks, and working with luxury hotel companies to open more properties.
Even the ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia is on board with the tourism push, naming 25 new archaeological sites across the country and issuing tourist visas for the first time,
But which is the most open country in the Middle East? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to the bustling Dubai and Abu Dhabi cities.
It’s the neighboring peninsula of Qatar.
Occupying the strip of land on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the country’s terrain comprises arid desert and a long Persian (Arab) Gulf shoreline of beaches and dunes.
It may not be as popular as the UAE, which saw 20.7 million international tourist arrivals in 2017 while Qatar clocked 2.26 million international visitors the same year, but it has got a plan.
Recently, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) confirm Qatar is now the most open country in the Middle East, allowing nationals of 88 countries to enter visa-free and without a fee.
Qatar is also the eight most open in the world in terms of visa facilitation. Just four years ago, Qatar was ranked 177th.
How did Qatar do it?
“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,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said.
To improve visa facilitation, Qatar’s authorities introduced an online platform for efficient and transparent visa processing and e-visas.
The authorities also opened up a free 96-hour transit visa which doubles the time passengers can stopover and remain in the country.
Qatar Tourism Authority chairman Hassan Al Ibrahim explained, “We have committed to making it a seamless experience, even as visitors plan their journey. We will continue to work with our partners on streamlining the immigration process at Qatar’s ports of entry, as well as ensuring that all visitor visas and visa procedures are electronic.”
Since the implementation of the feeless, visa-free entry, year-on-year arrivals from India have grown 18 percent, from China 43 percent, and from Russia 366 percent.
And that’s not all Qatar is doing to gain more numbers.
Come 2022, Qatar is expected to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, becoming the first Arab country to do so. In anticipation of the games, the country will open some 21 new hotels, mainly five-star and four-star hotels by 2021.
In 2017, the Middle East region recorded a total of 58 million international tourist arrivals, an increase of five percent compared to figures in 2016, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.
According to Gulf Times, citing an Alpen Capital GCC Hospitality Industry report, international tourist arrivals in Qatar have been forecast to touch 2.9 million by 2022.