Visitors to Qatar from India, China and Russia will be able to get tourist visas on arrival in the “coming weeks,” the head of Qatar Airways has announced.
A new visa system will be introduced which should make it easier and quicker for tourists from these countries to visit Qatar, as the country continues its push to attract more visitors.
The announcement follows a sluggish first six months of 2016 for tourism, with visitor numbers down 6 percent compared to the same period last year.
However, Qatar has ambitious plans to attract up to 7 million visitors to the country by 2030.
Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar’s national flag carrier, announced the new arrangements in Doha today while launching an overhaul of the tourist visa system for visitors who need to buy their visas in advance of arrival.
By early-to-mid next year, they will be able to apply online for their visa, track it and receive it within 48 hours, Al Baker said.
The populous countries of India, China and Russia would join the existing list of 38 countries whose nationals can buy their visit visa when they arrive at Hamad International Airport (HIA).
These include the USA, Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia, as well as European and East Asian countries.
“The state of Qatar is finalizing agreements to allow citizens of Russia, China and India to arrive at the airport to get visa on arrival,” Al Baker said. He continued:
“The Ministry of Interior is putting the processes in place – it needs the IT infrastructure. They are aggressively working on it. It will come in weeks, not months.”
The MOI will give further details of the new visa rules “soon”, he added.
Al Baker joined senior officials from Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), the MOI’s immigration department and online visa processing organization VFS Global to announce changes to streamline and make “more transparent” the visa processes for visitors from other countries.
This comes amid a push to increase the number of people traveling to Qatar from 2.9 million last year to 4 million by 2020, Hassan Al Ibrahim, QTA’s chief tourism development officer, said at the media briefing.
The new online visa system should come into effect “between the first quarter and second quarter of 2017,” Al Ibrahim said.
The details of how it will work – which types of visas will be included, and the costs of them – are still being finalized and will be announced at a later date, Al Baker added.
The new system can be used by all passengers traveling to Qatar, regardless of the airline they use.
It is planned to use some Qatar Airways offices internationally as the pick-up venue for the visas.
“We are taking a major step forward in further increasing the visitor numbers in Qatar,” the Qatar Airways CEO added.
The new system will be be a “robust, online platform” and will “give visitors to this country much-required flexibility and ease to plan trips and holidays to Qatar,” Zubin Karkaria, CEO of VFS Global said.
QTA, Qatar Airways, VFS Global and the Ministry of Interior’s immigration department signed the initial agreement for the new service.
Despite the recent tightening of economic conditions in Qatar, Al Baker maintained that plans to expand HIA would continue and would finish on time “by 2021, latest”.
The airport aims to increase its capacity to 60 million passengers, and the first phase of this expansion is already underway and should be finished by the end of this year, Al Baker said.
“We are releasing space and having to move parking away from the north end of the (airport) building to start construction,” he added.
Qatar Airways is continuing to expand and currently has 300 aircraft on order, partly to replace old stock and partly to add to new routes.
However, its battles with Airbus over the late delivery of its A320neo planes continue. Al Baker confirmed today he has cancelled the orders for the first three of these aircraft, and more could follow.
Qatar Airways had 80 of the aircraft on order from Airbus.
“I will keep cancelling as long as they (Airbus) don’t meet their delivery dates,” he told Doha News.
He was previously described as being “very unhappy” over the problems with the jet.
However, he refused to confirm rumors he would be replacing these with the Boeing 737.
Asked how talks with Boeing were going on this issue, he replied: “I don’t know.”
The delayed orders of A320s and A350s are causing the company trouble and the airline chief admitted it is a “possibility” these issues could contribute to pushing it into the red by the end of this financial year.
“What’s happening with Airbus, with their deliveries, is seriously affecting our growth. It is having a very, very huge financial impact… Our relationship (with Airbus) is very strained,” he said.
However, he remains “hopeful” that Airbus will make up the delays and delivery 12 aircraft to Qatar Airways by the end of this financial year, Al Baker added.
FC Barcelona renewal
Talking about Qatar Airway’s sponsorship of FC Barcelona, which was renewed for one year earlier this summer, Al Baker said that the airline remained in talks with the Spanish side to sign a longer, four-year contract starting next summer.
“We didn’t have enough time to negotiate a proper agreement with FCB). We expanded it for one year and we are in negotiations with them to extend the term to an extra four years.
But it all depends on the kind of agreement FCB is willing to do with us.”
Note: This article was updated to reflect that the number of countries whose nationals can get visa on arrival is now 38, not 33. It also shows QTA’s target of 4 million visitors by 2020, not 5 million in three years as was stated in the media briefing.