HBKU: Getting Qatar's tourism sector back on track after COVID-19
The State of Qatar’s tourism sector has achieved remarkable growth and significant developments over the past few years in terms of both visitor numbers, development of tourism infrastructure and governance of the tourism sector to achieve economic diversification, which is one of the most important objectives of the Qatar National Vision 2030.
The tourism sector has recently undergone rapid development after the opening of QNTC representative offices in the major exporting markets of the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Turkey, Russia, India, China, and Southeast Asia. This coincides with the announcement of the World Tourism Organization that the State of Qatar has become the most open country in the Middle East and the 8th most open in the world.
The latest statistics showed that the State of Qatar welcomed 1.19 million visitors during the first seven months of 2019, representing a 10.7 percent increase, compared to the same period in 2018.
But the COVID-19 has undoubtedly made a massive impact on the global tourism industry. While Qatar’s tourism sector remains small by comparison, there can be no denying that it has also taken a hit.
Professor Laoucine Kerbache and Bahadir Yadikar, a Ph.D. student from the Engineering Management and Decision Sciences Department published a resourceful article about the Qatar tourism sector and how the COVID-19 has affected the tourism sector in Qatar and across the world.
Image: Professor Laoucine Kerbache, Engineering Management and Decision Sciences Department
Image: Bahadir Yadikar, a Ph.D. student from the Engineering Management and Decision Sciences Department
However, this is not the first time the country has confronted an existential challenge to this increasingly important economic activity. Qatar has had prior experience of navigating its tourism industry through difficult times.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in 2019 the sector accounted for 10.3% of global GDP and approximately 330 million jobs. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has been nothing short of a disaster for this vital sector. Thanks to lockdowns and other precautionary measures, this past April and May witnessed a near 100% reduction in tourist arrivals worldwide.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) warns that COVID-19 might yet result in the loss of 1.1 billion tourist arrivals, $1.2 trillion in revenues, and 120 million jobs.
Statistics for March indicate a 78% reduction in tourist arrivals, with the figures for April and May expected to be even worse.
Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022 nevertheless underlines why its tourist industry needs to make as full a recovery as possible from COVID-19 as millions of fans are expected to visit the country for the world’s premier football tournament. Most will require accommodation and entertainment beyond the stadiums.
In keeping with governments around the world, Qatar has initiated general support and subsidized loan programs to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on business revenues.
The country is also expected to draw inspiration from several international efforts to restart the global tourism sector. These include 23 actionable recommendations developed by the UNWTO to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, accelerate recovery through national policies, and build resilience through lessons learned.
In a similar vein, the European Union (EU) has developed a comprehensive framework for rejuvenating its tourism sector. This calls for a recovery strategy and a common approach to lifting travel restrictions between member states.
Additional measures include the development of detailed health and safety measures for hospitality establishments and the transportation of passengers and personnel to and from tourist destinations.
When it comes to small states, Singapore has developed two initiatives that might be of interest to Qatar. The Marketing Partnership Program aims to improve cooperation and encourage synergies between stakeholders in the city state’s tourist industry. To assist, the Program makes funds available for marketing costs and collaboration between businesses.
These are by no means the only initiatives Qatar might look to when reawakening its currently dormant tourist sector. There is also a case for taking the best ideas from as many global efforts as possible to develop a hybrid action plan with two interconnected phases.
It should also be remembered that Qatar has prior experience in navigating its tourism industry through difficult times. In 2016 almost 3 million tourists visited the country, the majority coming from fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab states. Tourist arrivals have nevertheless diminished in recent years due to the reduction of visitors from the blockading states. According to the Qatar Planning and Statistics Authority, arrivals from the Arab world declined by 76% between 2016 and 2019.
Qatar has responded with a strategy to diversify tourist arrivals and new tourism markets. In the immediate aftermath of the blockade, nationals from 80 countries were granted visa-free entry into the country. The development of the Qatar National Museum and other tourist attractions was also expedited. High-profile marketing campaigns such as Qatar Airways’ “A World like Never Before” continue to highlight the diversity of the country’s tourist sector.
Such initiatives undoubtedly contributed to a 38% increase in tourist arrivals from other parts of the world between 2016 and 2019.
Additionally, hotel bookings rose from 4.97 million nights in 2016 to 5.38 million in 2018, suggesting that the average length of stay in Qatar has increased. The country’s museums also benefited from a fresh approach to attracting tourists, with visits rising from 477,000 in 2016 to 597,000 just two years later. According to the UNWTO, Qatar’s tourism sector generated $5.6 billion in 2018 despite the negative impact of the blockade.
Qatar’s response to the blockade offers key insights into how tourism can get back on track once the worst of COVID-19 is over. Tourism sectors around the world will need to act quickly and decisively upon the resumption of ‘business as usual.’
Make sure to check out our social media to keep track of the latest content.
Instagram - @qatarliving
Twitter - @qatarliving
Facebook - Qatar Living
Source: Hamad Bin Khalifa University