Qatar, isolated by its neighbors for its alleged support of “terrorism” for over two months, announced Wednesday that it was granting visa-free entry, with immediate effect, to the nationals of eighty countries in order to stimulate tourism and air transport.
“The visa exemption scheme will make Qatar the most open country in the region,” Hassan al-Ibrahim, Chief Tourism Development officer at Qatar Tourism Authority told reporters at a press conference in Doha.
Qatar is not ranked as a prime tourist destination like Dubai, which has gigantic shopping and leisure centres, but the gas-rich country, which hosts the soccer World Cup in 2022, expects the move will attract more visitors.
For the nationals of the 80 countries benefiting from the new measure, it will be sufficient to present a valid passport upon arrival to obtain the right to enter Qatar, said the representative of the Ministry of the Interior, Mohamed Rached al-Mazroui, at the news conference.
Nationals from 33 countries will have the right to stay in Qatar for 180 days without a visa and those of the other 47 countries will be able to stay in the Emirate without a visa for 30 days, which is renewable once.
Lebanon is the only Arab country, outside the Gulf, on the 80-country list published after the press conference. The others are the European states members of the Schengen area as well as Western, Latin American or Asian countries.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt broke off relations with Doha on June 5. They have closed the maritime, air and land borders with Qatar, which they accuse of “supporting terrorism” and of maintaining too close relations with Iran, Riyadh’s arch-rival.
Before the Qatari visa announcement, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) announced through its spokesman Anthony Philbin that Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be easing their blockade on Qatar by opening some of their airspace to Qatari-registered aircraft.
To ensure safe and smooth air operations, the GCAA – along with its counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt – have granted the use of nine emergency routes for use by Qatari aircraft. The agreed upon emergency routes are located in overseas areas managed by the UAE, and will be used to facilitate air navigation and ensure safety, under the umbrella of the ICAO, which co-ordinates and oversees such agreements, the ICAO said in a press release.
The move was praised by UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) chairman and Minister of the Economy Sultan Al Mansoori.
According to a GCAA source, the nine routes include one over the Mediterranean that is managed by Egypt and began operations on August 1. A Notice to Airmen – or NOTAM – has already been issued for this route and others agreed upon that exist over the Arabian Gulf.
“Our four states, with the cooperation of ICAO, have successfully implemented contingency measures that ensure the safety of international civil aviation in the region,” Al Mansoori said.