Qatar has become the most open country in the Middle East and the 8th most open in the world in terms of visa facilitation. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recently updated its visa openness rankings, confirming 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.
In 2014, Qatar commissioned a visa facilitation study for the country, which UNWTO prepared based on its global openness data. “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,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.
“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,” said Hassan Al Ibrahim, Qatar Tourism Authority’s chairman.
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 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.
UNWTO Places Tourism in the European Parliament
To mark the start of the new mandate of the European Commission, Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili was in Brussels for a series of high-level meetings. In a notable first, the head of the United Nations specialized agency for tourism met with Elisa Ferreira, the new European Commissioner responsible for Cohesion and Reforms.
Jobs, climate and rural development on the agenda
The talks focused on making tourism a more central part of the European Union agenda, with a particular focus on the sector’s potential to contribute to the creation of more and better jobs and to achieving the ambitious climate goals set out in the new European Green Deal. At the same time, as UNWTO celebrates its Year of Tourism and Rural Development, the role the sector can play in regenerating and driving sustainable growth in rural communities across Europe was also highlighted.
Addressing the Committee’s members, Mr. Pololikashvili said: “The new European Commission has rightly put sustainability and the implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of its strategy for the future. We now have an opportunity to place tourism front and centre in the debate over what kind of Europe we want to build now and for future generations. Above all, as we face up to the biggest challenge of our lifetimes in the climate emergency, we must make sure tourism’s potential to contribute to the European Green Deal is fully realized.”
UNWTO offers strong support to China and tourism
Secretary-General Pololikashvili also used the opportunity of addressing the Committee and Transport and Tourism to reaffirm UNWTO’s support for the people of China and the global tourism sector as it deals with the effects of the current outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). He stressed tourism’s proven ability to help drive recovery from setbacks including health emergencies, and reaffirming UNWTO’s close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese authorities.
In Brussels, Mr. Pololikashvili was accompanied by three Secretary of States for Tourism, representing Spain, Portugal and, coinciding with their current Presidency of the European Union, from Croatia. Additionally, the UNWTO delegation also met with Minister of Tourism and Environment of Albania.
Greece Welcomes UNWTO Support for Sustainable Tourism Growth
Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili was in Athens for high-level talks with political leaders, as well as high-level representatives from across the private sector. The discussions focused on the key issues of harnessing tourism as a driver of education and opportunities for all, encouraging entrepreneurship and promoting tourism investment.
Mr Pololiksahvili said: “Greece is one of the world’s true tourism leaders. They also chair the UNWTO Regional Commission for Europe, highlighting the country’s commitment to international cooperation and to sustainable and responsible tourism.” Looking forward to returning to Greece in the very near future, he added: “I am delighted to be further strengthening our partnership and look forward to working more closely with Greece to make sure as many people as possible, including rural and coastal communities, are able to enjoy the many benefits tourism can bring.”
Greece Committed to Working with UNWTO
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis welcomed UNWTO’s visit and support of the national tourism sector and showed a sincere interest for prospects of the cooperation with the Greek tourism sector. At the same time, Minister of Tourism for Greece Harry Theocharis expressed his thanks to the UNWTO for the official visit and welcomed its readiness to work alongside Greece in promoting year-round tourism and digital transformation.
He added: “Working with UNWTO gives Greece the chance to learn from the lessons of other countries, share positive experiences and build useful partnerships in the areas of education, innovation and sustainable development.”
UNWTO welcomed Greece’s commitment to sustainable tourism development, making the case for tourism as pillar of stability in uncertain times.
The visit of UNWTO to Greece comes as UNWTO assumes leadership of the global tourism sector’s response to the climate challenge. Later this week, Secretary-General Pololikashvili will address the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN). The intervention in Brussels will be made against the backdrop of the first meeting of the Tourism Task Force, with its Members to discuss the place of tourism in the European Green Deal, including both the opportunities and challenges.
Snow and Mountain Tourism: The Links between Tourism, Sustainability and Innovation
The 11th edition of the World Congress on Snow and Mountain Tourism will take place on 11-13 March 2020 in Andorra, under the theme “Tourism, Innovation and Sustainability”. The Congress is organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Government of Andorra and the Parish of Canillo.
Within the framework of the Year of Tourism and Rural Development that the UNWTO is celebrating in 2020, the Congress will focus on the role of mountain tourism in rural development, mainly addressing the issues of innovation, sustainability and digital transformation.
UNWTO Executive Director Manuel Butler highlighted the timeliness of the theme of the 11th Congress: “Sustainability is essential for tourism to be compatible with the fragile environment of mountain areas, while providing benefits and opportunities to communities, which gives a key role to innovation to harmonize these objectives.”
For her part, Andorra’s Minister of Tourism, Verònica Canals, underlined: “The integration of new technologies and the contribution to sustainable development are two key aspects for the tourism sector. Therefore, this year, the Congress will try to share the perspectives of professionals regarding these challenges and will allow us to know the different models that companies and entities from around the world are creating.”
Development and sustainability
Through its high-level panels, keynote speeches and thematic sessions, the Congress will explore innovative solutions for sustainable tourism, sustainable consumption, local resources and products, inclusive tourism, and the development of responsible destinations.
The event will bring together a wide range of tourism professionals and experts from more than 10 countries (Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, United States).
Presiding over the inauguration of the 11th World Congress on Snow and Mountain Tourism will be Xavier Espot Zamora, Head of Government of Andorra, Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the UNWTO, and Francesc Camp Torres, Mayor of Canillo.
The Congress was born as an initiative of the World Tourism Organization, the Government of Andorra and the seven parishes that make up Andorra. Held every two years and organized by the parishes on a rotating basis, the Congress has established itself as an enduring forum for discussion of the development and sustainability of tourism in mountain areas.
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