On 7 August 2012, Qatar passed new Tourism Law No. 6 of 2012 (the “Tourism Law”) superseding Law No. 7 of 1982 which was limited to regulating travel and tourism agencies. The new law covers the hospitality industry, including hotels and resorts, as well as tourism facilities, tourism activities and tourist guides.
In part, the Tourism Law requires all hotels to be licensed by the Qatar Tourism Authority (the "QTA") and the Ministry of Business and Trade and imposes a classification regime for hotels based on the facilities and services they provide to be evaluated every January. Hotels will be licensed for three-year periods while tourism facilities will receive one-year licences. The law also provides for a new profession of "Tourist Guide" and imposes a one-year licence requirement on the profession.
Fines for violating the law could reach QR100,000 for unlicensed tourism facilities or activities. Implementing by-laws and/or executive regulations are to be proposed by the head of the QTA. Until such time, the existing by-laws remain in force.
Hotel and Tourism Installations vs. Tourism Activities
The new Tourism Law defines and regulates different categories of hospitality installations and activities. The first is the Hotel Installations category which is defined to include hotels, tourist resorts, hotel apartments, tourist camps, floating hotels and tourist cruise liners.
The Tourism Installations category includes entertainment installations and clubs, in addition to offices providing tourist services and transportations, tourist guides and timeshare services.
On the other hand, the Tourism Activities category covers tourist transportation activities and related, specialized tourist transportation methods (including by land and sea) and tourist guides.
The Tourism Law prohibits the unlicensed construction of any hotel or tourist installation or practice of any tourism activity. The required licensing is handled by the QTA which is tasked with evaluating and ruling on licence applications within 30 days of application.
Following a temporary provisional licence, a non-provisional licence is issued for three years in the case of Hotel Installations and one year for Tourism Installations and Activities. The licence can be renewed for one or more periods of the same duration with licence fees to be set by the Ministry of Business and Trade.
Article (7) of the Tourism Law notes that the Minister of Business and Trade has the discretion and authority to suspend the issuance of new licences for periods of up to six months with additional six-month suspension periods being subject to the approval of the Counsel of Ministers.
The Tourism Law sets out a number of obligations with which a licensee must comply. For example, a licensee may not make any changes to the licensed facilities or installations without QTA approval. Additionally, a licensee may not make any changes to a licensed installation's trade name, ownership or management without first notifying the QTA. Other licensee obligations include providing customers with line-item bills, taking necessary environmental protection measures and obtaining any required licences from other government entitles with respect to on-premises activities.
Notably, the law requires licensees to provide the QTA with their tourism marketing and promotional programs and related implementation details no less than 15 days prior to the publication of such programs (the program details to be kept confidential by the QTA). Licensees are also obligated to provide the QTA with copies of any agreements with other hotel and tourism installations within or outside Qatar.
A number of other obligations relating to prominent display of licence certificate and price schedules (in Arabic and English) in addition to accurate bookkeeping are also required under the law.
Classification of Hotels and Tourism Facilities
Under the new law, hotels and tourism installations will be classified into different grades based on a classification guide to be issued by the QTA President. Each installation must prominently display the grade it has been given. Re-classification requests can be made to the QTA each January.
The Tourism Law introduced for the first time, provisions covering the licensing and regulation of the tourist guide profession. The new law requires all tourist guides to be licensed with the licensing procedures, terms and requirements to be set out by the QTA. Initial and renewal licence fees together with tourist guide salaries and the number of licences to be issued per tourist area are to be set by the Minister of Business and Trade.
An issued licence may be suspended for a number of reasons including any of the following:
- Failure to conduct the licensed activity for a continuous six-month period.
- Operating outside the scope of the issued licence.
- Failure to meet one of the licence conditions.
- The total or partial destruction of the building housing the installation.
- Re-locating the installation without notifying the QTA.
- Final court order closing the installation.
As noted above, in addition to closure of the offending installation, the penalties for violating the provisions of this law include imprisonment of up to one year, a fine of up to QR 100,000 or both.
QTA decisions may be appealed to the QTA President within 30 days of receiving such decisions with the President ruling on the appeal within 15 days of filing. The QTA President's decision is final.
The new Tourism Law marks a significant addition to the existing laws and regulations covering tourism with specific licensing and classification requirements that the tourism industry will need to take into consideration. Current reports indicate that implementation of the Tourism Law will begin during the second quarter of next year. Existing hotel and tourism installations will have six months from the implementation date to comply with the provisions of this law.