As Gulf countries including Qatar try to increase their visitor numbers in the coming years, they’d do well to look east, toward India and China.
That’s the message resonating with hospitality industry experts this week at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai.
To court these tourists, the GCC may want to take a page from Europe, which has a Schengen system that allows travelers to visit multiple member countries with a single visa.
According to a new Colliers International report presented at the ATM yesterday, this idea could work well for visitors from India and China.
Creating a visa that makes it easier for people to travel between all six Gulf countries isn’t a novel one.
In fact, the GCC has been studying this possibility for years, possibly decades.
In the past, there have been several stumbling blocks, including a lack of a central electronic linkup between Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE.
But lower global oil prices may be the impetus energy-rich Gulf states need to overcome any former issues, given the visa’s potential to boost tourism, business, shopping travel and economic activities.
In addition to establishing a Schengen-type visa, Colliers suggested that GCC governments launch cultural exchange programs, introduce visa-on-arrival for Indian and Chinese travelers and offer special shopping discounts to them.
Qatar already appears to have taken this advice to heart.
Meanwhile, hotels can do more by providing welcome kits and signage in guests’ native languages and honoring cultural sensitivities (such as not putting Chinese guests on the fourth floor or using white flowers in the lobby because these are associated with funerals).
Establishing targeted loyalty programs and special promotions for festival periods were also recommended.
Local hotels appear to be on board with these suggestions.
However, at another recent conference, they pointed out that GCC visitors for now are the lion’s share of Qatar’s tourists.
They added that establishing new visitors streams would be a “medium-to-long term” goal.
Colliers concluded its report by saying:
“Should GCC cities focus their efforts on attracting Chinese tourists, this would ensure a perennial stream of hotel bed nights, even during economic downturns.”