Qatar Airways Focuses on Stop-Over Programs to Help Boost Nation’s Tourism

Skift Take

Fancy 48 hours in Doha? Qatar Airways thinks you will.

Qatar is now looking to boost its status as a prime stop-over hub to boost its tourism sector.

Doha’s largest airport, Hamad International, connects to more than 170 destinations, making it the second-most connected airport in the region behind Dubai International. The country’s flagship carrier, Qatar Airways is cashing in on this with a new stop-over scheme.

The new packages will remove the need for separate reservations and enable travelers in the region to streamline their travel plans through a new and improved booking process that incorporates flight and hotel bookings in one itinerary.

It allows travelers to stay in Qatar for as long as four nights, availing subsidized packages for hotels and activities. It operates through Qatar Airways’ holiday subsidiary: Qatar Holidays.

Qatar’s tourism authority offers transit visas to travelers for around $27, and offers dedicated tours for travelers stopping over in the Arab state for six hours or more.

Many of the Middle East carriers offer similar stop-over programs to help tourism. Dubai’s Emirates, Turkish Airlines and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad all have offers for travelers, with Etihad offering free nights’ stay for travelers using the airline; and Emirates recently announcing a new promotion for up to two free nights in Dubai.

Qatar Looks to Benefit From Its Aviation Sector

Qatar’s wider tourism sector has not benefitted from the World Cup as officials had hoped.

This month, Qatar Airways Group reported the strongest financial performance in its 27-year history, announcing profits of 6.1 billion Qatari Riyals ($1.7 billion) for the 2023/24 financial year. The airline had a total revenue $22.2 billion, representing an increase of $1.3 billion over the previous year.

For the fiscal year, the airline had around 40 million passengers. But Qatar itself had one-tenth of that in international tourism: Four million in 2023. 

For comparison, Dubai’s Emirates Airline had 51.9 million passengers last year, but Dubai also welcomed 17.15 million international tourists in that time.

As Skift previously reported, Qatar is relying heavily on events to keep its tourism sector going. During the FIFA World Cup in 2022, the country scrambled to open thousands of hotel rooms, which it now struggles to fill without similar mega-events.

Without large-scale events, particularly sporting ones, Qatar’s tourism sector tends to shrink. The issue is greater when considering the country built an extra 10,000 hotel rooms between the start of 2022 and now, increasing the country’s supply by a third. Qatar now has just shy of 40,000 hotel rooms.

Extending Stays in the GCC

The new stop-over program also comes across as a warm-up for the Gulf’s upcoming packages to promote stays in multiple GCC countries in one holiday. Qatar Airways, for example, will facilitate stop-over stays in the country as travelers head onward to Dubai.

A unified GCC visa was first mentioned in May 2023 at a conference in Dubai, where the countries’ ministers shared their hopes to unite the GCC so tourists would consider cross-country travel like they do in Europe.

It was then approved in October last year. At Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai, government officials said the “platform” should be completed before the end of 2024.

Countries’ tourism orgs are aligning on packages to sell to visitors.

At ATM 2024, Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri, Minister for Economy UAE said that the visa will include “grand packages” a month in length.

“The unified tourist visa will allow travelers to visit all six countries,” he said. Through the GCC grand tours we are aiming to finish, tourists will spend more than 30 days in the region.”

Another panelist added that the new visa will primarily bump up length of stay in the Gulf. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority said: “One of the main aims is to extend the length of stay. In leisure, people can travel up to four weeks. We want them to combine their holidays across the GCC.”

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