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 and Facebook: Leverage Digital Marketing to Restart Tourism
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and Facebook have partnered to help global destinations make use of the power of digital marketing as they look to welcome tourists back safely.
Over the past year, the United Nations specialized agency for tourism has been supporting its Member States on a series of initiatives relating to market intelligence and marketing. Now, as tourism begins to restart in some parts of the world, a series of special sessions were held jointly with Facebook to deliver a range of key insights into how the effective use of digital marketing can help destinations gain a competitive advantage in the challenging months ahead.
Three sessions, one each in English, Spanish and French, welcomed participants from 30 countries. The sessions focused on Facebook and Instagram Communication Insights and Best Practices, with participants also given an overview of digital tools and tips for communicating with their target audiences, including through Messenger and WhatsApp. Alongside this, the sessions highlighted the importance of metrics and other key tools in measuring the success of digital marketing campaigns, and role of advertising and creativity in reaching new audiences.
Sandra Carvao, UNWTO Chief, Market Intelligence and Competitiveness, says: “We are very happy to have Facebook on board with us to bring the fundamentals and best cases of digital marketing to our Members. Our partnership will help destinations be better prepared for a new market framework and allow them to use data and digital marketing to reach new audiences and restart their tourism sectors.
Nicolai Gerard, Facebook EMEA Government Politics & NonProfit Marketing Solution Director says: “We are very pleased to work with UNWTO to help global destinations take advantage of all the benefits that digital solutions and tools can offered. In the times we are living, it is key for the travel industry to implement digital marketing strategies to accelerate the road to recovery. With this partnership, we believe that travel destinations will gain the necessary tools and skills that will allow them to use all the services available through our family of apps”.
Advancing Harmonized Travel Protocols and Financing Tourism’s Survival
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has again convened its Global Tourism Crisis Committee to lead the sector in harmonizing travel and health protocols and securing vital financing for businesses struggling to survive an historic crisis.
The ninth meeting of the Crisis Committee advanced solutions to the biggest challenges standing in the way of international travel returning.
Committee members, drawn from political leadership, international organizations, including UNWTO’s sister UN agencies, finance and the private sector, discussed the Crisis Committee’s Recommendations, which focus on four core areas: the resumption of safe, cross-border travel; promoting safe travel at all points of the tourist journey; providing liquidity to tourism businesses and protecting jobs, and restoring confidence in travel.
The virtual meeting was co-hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Opening the proceedings, the Minister for Tourism, His Excellency Ahmad bin Aqil Al Kateeb, said: “Saudi Arabia has been collaborating with partners across the public and private sectors both regionally and globally to accelerate the resumption of international travel. The facilitation of safe and seamless travel is the only way to restore confidence among travelers and tourism businesses, which will ultimately be the drivers of the sector’s recovery.”
Harmonized protocols and building confidence
The Committee backed the proposed EU Digital Green Pass as an example of joined-up protocols for other regions to follow. Addressing the meeting, EU Vice President Margaritis Schinas said that “we can make summer 2021 the beginning of the post-pandemic era, one that is safer, more sustainable, more resilient and more prosperous”. He stressed that “the tourism sector can – and should – be at the forefront of this effort, leading the recovery of the European and the global economy”.
Mr. Schinas also outlined the work being done to raise consumer confidence in tourism, already devastated by issues surrounding cancelling and refunding travel services and noted: “UNWTO’s efforts to develop an International Code for the Protection of Tourists are most welcome”. The landmark legal code is one of several key UNWTO initiatives aimed at restoring confidence in international travel.
Also at the Committee, UNWTO and IATA (the International Air Transport Association) announced the forthcoming launch of a new Destination Tracker. This tool will be available on the websites of both organizations and provide comprehensive and up-to-date information on the restrictions and requirements of airlines and destinations, allowing tourists to make informed choices.
Recommendations for Recovery
The Recommendations of the UNWTO Global Tourism Crisis Committee highlight the importance of basing policies on current international health and aviation regulations, including but not limited to provisions from the World Health Organization (WHO) and those the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), most notably its ‘Take Off’ guidance and the work of its Civil Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART). The Recommendations also call for the creation of Public Health Corridors, the implementation of digital health solutions and the development of a common “traffic-light” system as a recognizable risk management framework. In presenting the Recommendations, the Minister of Tourism of Greece and Chair of the UNWTO Crisis Committee’s Technical Group, Harry Theoharis, said that ”this year we have more tools in our arsenal, including vaccinations, to address all concerns of travellers and people employed in the tourism sector.”
Financing tourism’s survival
Through the Global Tourism Crisis Committee, UNWTO also advanced on its work addressing one of the other key challenges facing global tourism, namely the sudden halt of tourism cash flow and the need to support businesses and protect jobs. Along with ICAO and the WHO, UNWTO is one of the only UN agencies working with the OECD on its International Mobility Initiative. UNWTO is also working closely with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
OECD and EBRD again contributed to the latest meeting of the Crisis Committee, advancing coordinated efforts to both support tourism businesses through the current crisis and also to build future resilience and achieve greater sustainability, including through promoting green investments in the sector. Also updating the Committee were the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), with their representatives focusing in particular on the potential role of innovation, green investments in tourism and on supporting businesses, now and during the recovery phase.
Vaccinate SIDS to Restart Tourism Kickstart Recovery, UNWTO Urges
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is calling for the international community to show solidarity with Small Island Developing States by ensuring they have access to COVID-19 vaccinations.
With tourism a leading employer and economic pillar for many of the SIDS, the United Nations specialized agency has stressed that pledges to ensure ‘nobody is left behind’ in the recovery phase of the crisis must be backed up with firm actions. Given the relatively small size of the populations of the SIDS, the cost of mass vaccinations will be minimal compared to the potential benefits of restarting tourism. Moreover, given tourism’s wide value chain and proven ability to create opportunity for all, the impact of rolling out mass vaccinations and allowing tourism to restart, will go beyond economic benefits.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili says: “By sharing vaccines with Small Island Developing States, the international community can help accelerate the restart of tourism in these leading destinations. Due to the size of the populations of the SIDS, the cost of mass vaccinations will be small, but the benefits will be significant. It will restore confidence in visiting SIDS, allowing the many social and economic benefits of tourism to return.”
Secretary-General Pololikashvili made the comments after a meeting with His Excellency Dario Item, Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to Spain, at the UNWTO headquarters in Madrid. One of the 38 SIDS, Antigua and Barbuda is a top tourism destination and is looking to the restart of tourism to protect businesses and jobs and economic growth at both the national and local level. Ambassador Item affirmed Antigua and Barbuda’s application to become a Member State of UNWTO, pending ratification by the upcoming UNWTO General Assembly (October 2021, Marrakesh, Morocco).
According to UNWTO data, prior to the start of the pandemic, tourism accounted for more than 30% of total exports in the majority of the 38 SIDS. In some countries, this proportion has risen as high as 90%. The significance of tourism makes these destinations especially vulnerable to falling tourist numbers, making the timely restart of the sector of vital importance.
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