Nearly 50,000 people visited Qatar via cruise this season, an increase of more than 1,000 percent from last year, officials have announced.
The surge in visitors was helped by an increase in the number of cruise ships coming to Qatar.
Another big factor was the rollout of a new free 96-hour transit visa for tourists late last year. This made it easy for any passenger onboard a ship to disembark in the country.
The growth in cruise visitors is a win for the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), which struggled to attract visitors last year due to what it called increasing competition and political turmoil in the region.
In a statement yesterday, Hassan Al Ibrahim, the QTA’s chief tourism development officer, said:
“Collectively, we have proven Qatar’s value as a successful and attractive tourist destination to dozens of cruise liners and thousands of passengers.
I am confident that even as work begins on the redevelopment of Doha Port, we will be able to provide smooth and memorable end-to-end experiences that reinforce Qatar’s position as a truly world-class hub with deep, authentic roots.”
By the numbers
Some 22 cruise ships and one mega-yacht docked at Qatar’s ports during the most recent season, which ran from October to April.
That’s more than double the 10 ships Qatar welcomed during the 2015-2016 season. During that period, only 4,000 passengers were issued tourist visas.
According to QTA’s annual report, authorities are ambitiously expecting some 300,000 cruise visitors during the 2019/2020 season.
To help with that goal, a QR2 billion overhaul of Doha Port is planned. The aim is to attract visitors by making this a turnaround port during the next cruise season.
In its annual report, QTA explained:
“Becoming a turnaround port means that in the near future, international cruise passengers could fly to Qatar, enter using a transit visa, and begin and end their cruise in Doha.
This will increase the length of stay in Qatar of a growing segment of visitors, and allow them to further explore our country’s tourism offering, while increasing the economic impact of cruise tourism.”
Cruise tourism has been a bright spot for Qatar, which saw overall visitor numbers fall last year, after three years of growth.
According to QTA’s annual report, some 2,938,000 people visited Qatar in 2016, compared to 2,941,000 in 2015.
One-third of those visitors hailed from neighboring Saudi Arabia. Another big chunk came from the UAE, Bahrain and Oman.
Authorities have been trying to diversify away from Gulf visitors, however, and cruises have helped with this.
The QTA said that the top 10 nationalities of people who visited Qatar via cruise ships were British, Italian, Spanish, German, Belgian, French, Swiss, American, Brazilian and Irish.