Wouldn’t this be great?
We try our very best not to report on the rumour mill, but when all signs point “go”, and the outcome would be extremely positive for all, it’s tough not to get excited. There’s a rumour swirling throughout the United Arab Emirates and Qatar that a lift of the blockade between the nations and their proxies is imminent, and we could finally see a return to vital air routes. While this is just a rumour, here’s what we know so far…
In June of 2017, the world was shocked by the announcement of a formal blockade which effectively isolated Qatar from its nearby Gulf neighbours. The blockade was led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, who at the time accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, which they cited as a key tenet of the need for blockade. Ironic, because well… it’s just ironic.
Saudi Arabia closed its border with Qatar and all flights between the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar also ceased travel with immediate effect. People with immediate plans to fly home to either nation from the other were left scrambling.
This was an incredible spanner in the works, sending Qatar, a nation just emerging into the spotlight through its national air carrier into economic peril. For a time, it even saw their short haul fleet wet leased to European airlines which were short on planes, or crews.
To make matters worse, flights were no longer allowed to fly over the Straight of Hormuz, which meant that Qatar planes would need to burn extra fuel to avoid UAE or Saudi airspace, or risk being shot down.
For certain journeys, this added up to an extra hour of flight time. It was a blow designed to cut Qatar off at the kneecaps, but despite the headwinds, Qatar is still on pace to host the World Cup in 2022 and has managed to continue growth, or at least not fall into dramatic recession.
Just last week, Saudi Arabia showed signs of thawing tensions, allowing its national football (soccer) team to fly from Riyadh to Doha for an important Gulf tournament. It may sound simple enough, but a flight directly between the two countries hadn’t happened in over two years. Fans too were able to come and support their nation.
At the time, many pointed to this perhaps being a beginning to the end of the blockade. After a week of meetings between government and royal officials, that’s ringing even more likely.
Now, diplomatic sources on both sides of the blockade are pointing to a potential announcement in days, not weeks. In fact, there’s a rumour of an official announcement tomorrow in Doha.
The positive ripple effects of such an announcement are almost hard to quantify. It’s been years since someone could fly directly between Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Riyadh to Doha and these routes returning would make immediate impact on business and leisure travellers alike.
This week, Al Jazeera reported that Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani was well received at a GCC summit aimed at further dismantling the blockade on agreeable terms. The nations wish to see greater security cooperation within the region, with shared information, but accounts from both sides show an end to hostility and all signs point to a near term end to the travel blockade.
Travel is about opening borders and allowing people to share ideas through culture, not blockades. All travellers could benefit from a return of competitive fares, easy connectivity and growing tourism. With all likelihood, it would also mean a return of great deals within the region, as Emirates and Etihad target Doha travellers, and Qatar Airways targets UAE and Saudi destinations with great fares to counter in return.
Above all, it would just be nice to see the world open its doors again, allowing travellers to move freely in one of the most exciting emerging regions in the world. This is particularly true, now that Saudi Arabia has flung its proverbial tourism doors wide open to world scale tourism for the first time.
While this is just a rumour for now, keep your eyes and ears peeled this week.