Moves to expand promotional activities in India, China and Russia, coupled with the easing of visa requirements, have helped to diversify Qatar’s tourism industry, helping to offset a fall in arrivals from neighbouring states.
In mid-May Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) opened its first representative office in Mumbai, with the aim of raising the country’s profile as a business and leisure destination.
While capitalising on growing demand among India’s population for international travel – the country is second only to China in terms of outbound tourism market growth – the move is in line with the authority’s efforts to diversify its visitor source markets and attract more visitors from emerging markets with strong growth potential.
QTA has opened a series of offices in high-potential markets recently, including Moscow at the end of March, and three bureaus in China in September last year. The offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou represent more than a quarter of QTA’s total overseas profile.
Visa-free entry supports visitor surge from new markets
In addition to establishing a greater promotional presence on the ground, authorities have also taken steps to ease travel to the country by liberalising the visa requirements.
As of August last year visitors from China, India and Russia, along with more than 80 other countries, could enter Qatar without having to apply for a visa, helping to reduce both the cost and bureaucracy of travel.
“Granting more visa-free access to Qatar will help increase visitor numbers and further strengthen the tourism sector by building on the country's strong air connectivity,” Jose Vicente, CEO of Doha Exhibition and Conference Centre, told OBG. “Improving the visibility of Qatar as a destination internationally, particularly through the extension of QTA’s network of international offices, is essential going forward and will not only help the hospitality and events industry, but also lead to growth in other sectors.”
According to a recent report from QTA, the in-country promotional efforts and visa-free entry have led to strong gains in newly identified key markets in the first quarter: visitors from Russia climbed by 441% year-on-year (y-o-y), while traffic from China and India expanded by 27% and 15%, respectively.
This was supported by a further increase in inbound arrivals from Europe (15%) and Africa (56%), while cruise tourism also saw strong gains, with Doha Port handling 10 ships carrying a combined 42,000 passengers and crew over the period, a y-o-y increase of 49%.
Despite this growth, overall inbound traffic was down in the first quarter of the year, continuing a trend that began in the second half of last year following the June 2017 imposition of an economic blockade by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
First-quarter arrivals totalled 535,000, down 38% y-o-y, mainly due to an 86% drop off in visitors coming from GCC states. Arrivals from the Gulf fell from just under 400,000 in Q1 2017 to 54,000 in January-March this year.
Tourism providers and hotels adapt services for Chinese visitors
To accommodate the expected growth from new source markets, the authorities are working closely with industry figures to ensure tourism services and facilities are tailored to meet the specific needs of foreign tourists.
QTA is working with local operators to boost training for domestic tourism service providers, and as of early June six destination management companies and 15 hotels had been accredited by QTA to host Chinese tourists.
To obtain certification, hotels must be able to accept payments from China Union cards, offer Chinese-language cable television in rooms, and provide kettles for tea making, among other requirements.
QTA has forecast arrivals from China to increase in the second half of 2018, helped by the arrival in May of the first organised Chinese tour groups to include Qatar on their itinerary.
Tourism expected to drive retail activity
One segment expected to benefit from the diversification of the tourism sector is high-end retail, with overseas visitors set to be a driving force in expanding market turnover.
“Tourism can provide Qatar's retail sector with new opportunities to grow, particularly thanks to recent efforts to streamline and liberalise the visa regulation system to bring in new visitors,” Sean Kelly, project director of Place Vendôme, a mixed-use development in Lusail City, told OBG.
However, to fully capitalise on newly opened markets, Kelly said care must be taken to ensure visitor expectations are catered to.
“More emphasis on developing the partnership between the government and the retail sector will help policymakers understand market needs, and further market Qatar as a regional and international retail destination,” he said.