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Qatar Museums

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As Gulf countries including Qatar try to increase their visitor numbers in the coming years, they’d do well to look east, toward India and China.

That’s the message resonating with hospitality industry experts this week at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai.

To court these tourists, the GCC may want to take a page from Europe, which has a Schengen system that allows travelers to visit multiple member countries with a single visa.

Shabina S. Khatri / Doha News

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According to a new Colliers International report presented at the ATM yesterday, this idea could work well for visitors from India and China.

Overcoming obstacles

Creating a visa that makes it easier for people to travel between all six Gulf countries isn’t a novel one.

In fact, the GCC has been studying this possibility for years, possibly decades.

Fadi Benne

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In the past, there have been several stumbling blocks, including a lack of a central electronic linkup between Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE.

But lower global oil prices may be the impetus energy-rich Gulf states need to overcome any former issues, given the visa’s potential to boost tourism, business, shopping travel and economic activities.

Other recommendations

In addition to establishing a Schengen-type visa, Colliers suggested that GCC governments launch cultural exchange programs, introduce visa-on-arrival for Indian and Chinese travelers and offer special shopping discounts to them.

Qatar already appears to have taken this advice to heart.

Qatar China Year of Culture 2016

Qatar China Year of Culture 2016

China was the 2016 Year of Culture partner. And the government is currently working to offer visas on arrival for visitors from China, India and Russia.

Meanwhile, hotels can do more by providing welcome kits and signage in guests’ native languages and honoring cultural sensitivities (such as not putting Chinese guests on the fourth floor or using white flowers in the lobby because these are associated with funerals).

Establishing targeted loyalty programs and special promotions for festival periods were also recommended.

ITU Pictures/Flickr

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Local hotels appear to be on board with these suggestions.

However, at another recent conference, they pointed out that GCC visitors for now are the lion’s share of Qatar’s tourists.

They added that establishing new visitors streams would be a “medium-to-long term” goal.

Colliers concluded its report by saying:

“Should GCC cities focus their efforts on attracting Chinese tourists, this would ensure a perennial stream of hotel bed nights, even during economic downturns.”

Thoughts?

Indigo/Facebook

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Starting next month, low-cost carrier Indigo will begin flying daily non-stop to two popular Indian cities from Doha.

The budget airline’s new routes to Delhi and Mumbai should give residents a new cheaper option when flying to the subcontinent.

According to Indigo’s website, Flight 6E 1701 will leave Delhi at 1:50am and arrive in Doha at 3:30 am. The carrier will return on Flight 6E 1702, which will leave Doha at 1:30pm and arrive in Delhi at 8pm.

Brian Candy/Flickr

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Meanwhile, flight 6E 1708 will leave Mumbai at 11:20am and arrive in Doha at 12:30pm. Flight 6E1709 will make the return journey at 4:30am, arriving in Mumbai at 10:20am.

In a statement, Indigo’s president Aditya Ghosh said adding the Doha service is part of its growth strategy in the Middle East.

“Being an economic and cultural hub of Qatar, Doha attracts a lot of business and leisure tourists.

IndiGo has established itself as a preferred carrier on India-Gulf routes. We are hopeful that this daily service would also prove equally popular with our flyers.”

Competitors

Indians comprise Qatar’s largest demographic group, numbering more than 650,000 people, or about a quarter of the population.

India is also a popular tourist destination for residents.

Currently, Jet Airways and Qatar Airways already fly directly to Delhi seven days a week. But fares on both carriers for a one-week trip to Delhi starting May 5 average around QR1,750.

Arian Zweggers/Flickr

India Gate, New Delhi

Indigo conversely charges about QR1,000, though that price does not include amenities such as meal service or seat selection.

Competition is stiffer on the Mumbai route, which three airlines already fly direct to, including Jet, Qatar Airways and Air-India Express.

But once again, Indigo appears to have some of the lowest prices on offer (QR803 versus up to QR1,800).

According to local media reports, Indigo is planning to expand its Doha service to include more Indian cities in the future.

Are you excited about the new offering? Thoughts?

Qatar Airways/Flickr

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Qatar Airways made waves this week after its CEO announced plans to enter the fast-growing Indian market via a wholly-owned domestic carrier.

But in a possible jab at a Gulf competitor, Akbar Al Baker has pledged to take that expansion one step at a time.

According to the Financial Times, he said:

“We want to do (this) one by one, step by step, so that we don’t put so much food in our mouths that we cannot chew, like some airlines did before.”

“Some airlines” could be a reference to Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, which has invested in some struggling European carriers, the FT reports.

It added that the Indian market is an important one for Gulf carriers because it offers a growing clientele.

Pushback

Earlier this week, Al Baker told reporters that he plans to operate a full-service airline in India, not a budget one.

It would initially operate 100 single-aisle aircraft such as Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s, he added.

Boeing

Qatar Airways 737 Max

The move comes after India’s government relaxed requirements for foreign investment in the country.

Qatar Airways has yet to apply for the appropriate license, but domestic carriers in India are already pushing back.

According to Indian publication Mint, they are lobbying against the carrier for several reasons.

These include:

  • Reciprocity concerns, as Qatar does not allow foreign carriers to operate their own wholly-owned airlines in Doha;
  • Unspecified questions about national security; and
  • A strong belief that control of the aviation sector remain in local hands.

Thoughts?