A Place in the Sun


While the World Cup will help Qatar in its efforts toward diversification, it must ensure that the plan is sustainable once all the fans have gone home and not leave the market massively oversupplied.

According to the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), in 2012 there were 81 registered hotels with 13,407 rooms and 19,153 beds. There were 25 five-star hotels offering 10,176 beds in 7,100 rooms, 20 four-star hotels offering 6,298 beds in 4,118 rooms, and 23 three-star hotels, offering a considerably smaller 2,398 beds in 1,755 rooms. With all the beds combined, over 2012, Qatar averaged a 40% occupancy rate meaning that of the total possible bed nights in a year of 7.12 million, 2.46 million people stayed for a total of 2.81 million nights. This meant that each tourist stays for an average of 1.1 nights. Five-star hotels had the highest average stay of 1.4 nights, while three-star hotels had the lowest of 0.7 nights. European and US tourists made up the greatest number of visitors to Qatar at 803,106 over the whole of 2012, staying for a total of 1.09 million nights, while thesecond largest group wasthe Arab markets, with 653,638 tourists staying 526,468 nights. The most popular months for visitors to Qatar were October, November, and December, when 243,046, 240,416, and 227,597 occupants checked into hotels, respectively.

Qatar’s tourism figures for the near future look promising. Recent figures released by the QTA indicate that 3Q2013 performed better than the same period of the year before. The average occupancy rate for four- and five-star hotels grew from 50% to 57% even though 600 new rooms were added to the stock. This increased occupancy rate was helped by a 15% increase in inbound tourists with a 17% increase in Arab tourists and a 7% increase in visitors from other countries. Revenues also increased by QAR85.3 million to QAR703.1 million, a 13.81% increase on the year before. The average revenue per room also increased from QAR293 to QAR319, marking an 8.82% rise. While revenues and tourist numbers continue to rise in Qatar, there are still calls for more economy hotels, especially for 2022 as many people traveling to the country will be on a budget. Even though the World Cup will be an important part of Qatar’s future, the QTA is looking beyond this with the Qatar Tourism Sector Strategy 2030. The plan aims to bring Qatar’s tourism sector up to the international average contribution-to-GDP rate of 8%, a huge leap from its current 1%. The plan also hopes to create over 107,100 new jobs, which would represent 5.3% of total employment in the country, a huge leap from the 19,900 jobs created in 2012, which was just 1.8% of total employment. The strategy also hopes to open up foreign investment in the country by granting exemptions to investors setting up a business without a Qatari sponsor, as well as allowing 100% foreign ownership. And with more companies looking to Qatar as it plans to spend $200 billion in the run up to the World Cup, this could be a very enticing offer to many. Over the short term, the QTA wants to increase tourism by 20%. In a move to standardize the quality offered in the country, the regulatory powers of the industry were passed to the QTA. Now, all tour groups, guides, and hotels have to register with the QTA and adhere to the tourism law, otherwise they can face fines of up to QAR100,000 and/or a cancellation of their license for a minimum of six months. Hotels will be able to apply for a license that will be valid for three years, while licenses for tourism facilities or activities, such as guides or groups, will be valid for a shorter period of one year. These new regulations are aimed at encouraging more private investment in the sector. Over the next eight years, Qatar has $20 billion earmarked for tourism infrastructure, which includes hotels, entertainment venues, parks, and other structures necessary for the development of the sector. FIFA regulations state that there must be 60,000 rooms in place for the start of the World Cup. Estimates suggest that at the end of 2013 there were 30,000 rooms in Qatar, and the plan is to add a further 5,000 per year up until 2022. There are as many as 110 hotels under construction or in planning in Qatar at the moment, with 21 set to open between 2013 and 2017. In 2014, the new Doha International Airport is scheduled to open, which, when fully operational, will boast a capacity of 50 million passengers a year. The airport cost $11 billion to construct and even if it is only able to attract just 5% of its capacity, will be seen as a success according to the QTA. The government has also spent $5.5 billion on a new deep-water port, which should be completed by 2016. The port in Doha is hoping to become a regional hub for cruise ships and hopefully turn the city into a popular tourist destination. The surroundings of a port are key to attracting cruises, so with the Doha port being close to the Museum of Islamic Art, Souq Waqif, Musheireb, the Corniche, and the National Museum, cruise operators are welcoming the idea of the city becoming a new destination on cruise routes. Another idea being floated around is using cruise ships as possible hotels during the World Cup. A delegation met in Miami in January 2014 to discuss the unconventional idea of using cruise ships as hotels. One cruise ship would be able to host up to 6,000 people and, once the event is complete, the hotels can just sail away. The delegation is looking to temporarily bring across a number of cruise ships from Miami, which would fit in right at home at Doha’s new port. The government of Qatar is planning very carefully how the tourism sector will grow over the next decade with the ultimate aim for it to become one of the foundations of the Qatari economy.

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