By Raynald C Rivera / The Peninsula
While some people have hailed the decision of Qatar to grant citizens of 80 countries visa-free entry to the country, other nationals whose countries are not included on the list wonder what were the considerations in coming up with the list.
Hassan Al Ibrahim, Chief Tourism Development Officer at Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), said the list was a result of a thorough study and that the number of countries eligible for visa waiver could still increase in the future.
“These nationalities were chosen in a very careful and scientific way considering certain factors such as passport strength and spending capacity. This is an ongoing process and more nationalities may be added in the future. Our main objective is to open Qatar to more visitors” said Al Ibrahim in response to a query during a press conference on Wednesday.
The announcement to grant visa-free entry to citizens of 80 countries comes just a year after announcing the first steps QTA had taken on facilitating tourist visas with the cooperation of Qatar Airways and the Ministry of Interior.
“There is no doubt that changes have been moving rapidly, and this comes as the result of the Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy review process, which in partnership with stakeholders and partners from the public and private sectors, has explored all of the elements needed to create a smooth and enticing experience that can attract visitors from around the world.
“Undoubtedly, facilitating and streamlining access at all ports of entry are key factors in creating a positive first and lasting impression of Qatar,” he said.
Highlighting the efforts of QTA in promoting Qatar as a tourist destination, Al Ibrahim said there are plans to increase the number of QTA’s representative offices in different countries.
We have commercial representations in various countries such as France, Germany, the UK, Singapore, US and Turkey and are establishing more offices within the next quarter,” he said, adding as part of the strategy, QTA is promoting Qatar not only as a family destination but also as preferred destination for business and culture, among others.
“Qatar Museums, the Ministry of Culture and Sports and QTA are working very closely on promoting Qatar’s cultural offerings such as museums and souqs to increase awareness about the destination,” he said.
Efforts to promote Qatar as a leading tourist destination has been going on through QTA’s various initiatives internationally.
“This might not be seen locally, but at an international level we are almost on every lifestyle or travel magazine. The awareness on Qatar is increasing day after day and the numbers are reflecting that. The growth was double digit in May and towards June there was positive growth,” he added.
Asked on the airport’s readiness on the expected influx of tourists, Lt Col Muhammad Rashid Al Mazroui, Director of the Airport Passports Department, said, “We are ready to implement this in coordination with Qatar Airways. We have very good and tested security plans and Hamad International Airport has necessary facilities to receive big number of visitors from these 80 countries.”
To further enhance visitor experience at the airport and ensure seamless and ease of entry of tourists to the country, there are plans to introduce electronic cards to tourists from the 80 countries when they enter Qatar subsequently.
“We are studying a plan to allow tourists from these 80 countries to use the e-gates. Once they get security clearance when they enter for the first time, they will be able to subscribe for an electronic card which they can use for subsequent entries. Even though they are not a citizen or resident of Qatar but they are from these 80 countries and have gone through the security process, they will be able to enter through the e-gates without going through the immigration,” explained Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker.