Qatar, embroiled in a diplomatic stand-off with four Middle East nations that have seen severe restrictions on its access to neighboring airspace, has waived entry visa requirements for 80 nations.
The air blockade was not directly referenced in the announcement of the move to ease visa requirements, but will be seen as the oil-rich Gulf state attempting to head off any reductions in passenger numbers for Qatar Airways from potential customers uncertain about whether to travel on the carrier.
It will also be seen by the four countries—Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—that accuse Qatar of aiding Islamist extremists and undermining their governments as a further sign of defiance. Qatar denies the charges against it.
The visa announcement was made jointly by Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker, together with senior officials of the Qatar Tourist Authority and Qatar’s interior ministry.
Under the new move, passport holders of 80 nations who wish to visit Qatar will no longer need, or pay for, a visa; instead, a multi-entry waiver will be issued free-of-charge at the port of entry, upon presentation of a valid passport with a minimum validity of six months and a confirmed onward or return ticket.
Of the 80 countries, passport-holders of 33— mainly European—will be able to receive a visa valid for 180 days that allows them to spend up to 90 days in the state on a multi-entry basis. The other 47 nations will have a 30-day validity visa, with the possibility of extending it for a further 30 days.
Qatar is already considering further enhancements to its visa policy, including a waiver for holders of visa/resident permit for Gulf Cooperation Council and European Union countries in the visa-free Schengen zone, as well as UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Like several Gulf states, Qatar is attempting to enhance its attractiveness as a destination in its own right, rather than merely be considered as a transit point for onward travel. It says that increased marketing and the introduction of a 96-hour transit visa have resulted in a 39% increase in the number of stopover visitors during the first six months of 2017, compared with the same period last year.