QATAR. Qatar has become the most open country in the Middle East in terms of visa facilitation, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The country has risen to eighth in the world in UNWTO’s latest visa openness rankings, as it continues a rapid ascent from a position of 177th in 2014.

Qatar’s recent visa facilitation improvements now allow nationals of 88 countries to enter Qatar visa-free and free of charge, giving a significant boost to the country’s tourism industry, said the report.

Actions Qatar has taken to improve visa facilitation include introducing an online platform for efficient and transparent visa processing and e-visas, as well as a free 96-hour transit visa, doubling the time that stopover passengers can remain in the country.

UNWTO reports that since the introduction of these changes, year-on-year arrivals to Qatar from India have grown +18%, from China +43% and from Russia a huge +366%.

In 2014, Qatar commissioned a visa facilitation study for the country, which UNWTO prepared based on its global openness data.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Qatar has implemented and overachieved the recommendations of the study, setting an example by spearheading safe and seamless travel, enhancing the visitor experience and better placing itself to improve mobility for its citizens.”

Qatar Tourism Authority Chairman Hassan Al Ibrahim said: “Openness and ease of access are crucial elements of the visitor experience. We have committed to making it a seamless experience, even as visitors plan their journey. We will continue to work with our partners on streamlining the immigration process at Qatar’s ports of entry, as well as ensuring that all visitor visas and visa procedures are electronic.”

UNWTO also measures the mobility of citizens based on their ability to travel seamlessly to other countries. While Qatar currently ranks 106th in the world in terms of mobility, 20 of the countries benefiting from the Qatari visa waiver are already reciprocating, enhancing the mobility of Qatar’s citizens, UNWTO noted.