By Daniel Chigundu
UNWTO has applauded Qatar for being the most open country in terms of visa facilitation in the Middle East and also for ranking 8th in the world.
Visa regimes play a significant role in tourism as they affect the movement of people across the world and countries with strict visa requirements often get little in terms of international arrivals.
Most countries visa regimes have about three classes which are composed of people who require no visa to enter, those who can get visas at entry and those who must apply for visas before embarking on the journey.
In a statement, UNWTO said it recently updated its visa openness rankings whose results showed Qatar’s recent visa facilitation improvements including allowing nationals of 88 countries to enter Qatar visa-free and free-of-charge.
“Actions Qatar has taken to improve visa facilitation include introducing an online platform for efficient and transparent visa processing and e-visas, as well as a free 96-hour transit visa doubling the time stopover passengers can remain in the country.
“As a result of these measures, Qatar’s visa openness ranking has leapt to 8th in the world from 177th back in 2014. Since the introduction of these changes, year-on-year arrivals from India have grown 18%, from China 43% and from Russia a huge 366%. None of these markets now need a visa to visit Qatar,” UNWTO said.
Countries like Zimbabwe have paid dearly for their visa regimes which have been strict to nationals from such countries as China and India which unfortunately happens to the world’s largest source markets for outbound tourists.
China was recently named as the current world’s biggest contributor of outbound tourists by UNWTO and yet some countries are still strict with it in terms of tourism.
There was once a call for a Uni-visa in Africa but nothing has materialised for a long time and the call appears to be fading away with the passing of each day.
Zimbabwe and Zambia tried to implement the KAZA UNIVISA a few years ago which could have seen tourists just obtaining one visa that allows then entry into the two countries.
However, the project failed to work due to lack of follow up by relevant people in the two countries.
Meanwhile, UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili applauded Qatar adding that “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”.
Qatar’s Tourism Authority chairman Hassan Al Ibrahim said they are determined to make the visa regime as seamless as possible.
“Openness and ease of access are crucial elements of the visitor experience. 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,” he said.
UNWTO measures the mobility of citizens based on their ability to travel seamlessly to other countries. While Qatar currently ranks 106th in the world in terms of mobility, 20 of the countries benefiting from the Qatari visa waiver are already reciprocating, enhancing the mobility of Qatar’s citizens.
Facilitating seamless travel is crucial to the continued promotion of tourism as a development vehicle and potential pillar of achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Qatar’s travel facilitation improvements coincide with the progress made in visa facilitation worldwide. For example, Belarus recently made visa-free travel available for 30 days to citizens of 74 countries travelling through Minsk airport. UNWTO’s global visa openness index score has increased from 31 in 2014 to 37 in 2018.