Tourism

Make It So

Culture & Tourism

In late October, the QTA also announced 1H2014 tourism sector figures, with much to shout about across the board. As a standout, the total number of visitors grew to 1.424 […]

In late October, the QTA also announced 1H2014 tourism sector figures, with much to shout about across the board. As a standout, the total number of visitors grew to 1.424 million over the period, up from 1.330 million in 1H2013. Elsewhere, five-star hotels posted combined revenues of $433 million, up from $411 million in 1H2013.

And with much to see in Doha, including Souq Waqif, the largest and oldest of its kind in the Gulf, the superb Corniche, and Al-Khor, a former pearl-fishing village north of the city offering pristine beaches, there’s plenty to keep tourists interested long after the much-coveted cup is lifted.

NO WAITING AROUND

While there is much work to be done before the 2022 FIFA World Cup—5,000 rooms per year are expected to be added to the current roster of 30,000 until the big year—a quick look at some key indicators suggest that the country is already benefitting from the extra publicity that winning the right to hold the world’s largest sporting event has brought. Over 1H2014, average hotel occupancy came in at 74%, up from 67% the previous year. This was, however, helped along by a 1.9% decrease in available rooms as some establishments closed their doors for renovations. The peak month over the half remained March, when occupancy hit 77% compared to 72% in 2013. There was also a significant drop in the average room rate (ARR) at five-star hotels over the half, from $224 to $198, while there was a more insignificant drop in ARR for four-star hotels from $112 to $107. In terms of incoming tourists, 1.424 million arrived in Qatar in 1H2014, up over 100,000 on 1H2013. Of that figure, 536,000 came from the GCC, while a further 392,000 came from Asia. The next largest category was Europe, with 220,000 visitors, followed by other Arab countries with 172,000, and North Africa with 65,000. The remainder came mainly from South America, Africa, and Australasia. Visitors from Asia saw the biggest increase, up from just 314,000 in 1H2013. Worth noting, however, is that the QTA now counts all visa types issued by the Ministry of Interior, of which there are 14, whereas before its figures were based on business and tourist visas exclusively.

TARGET 2030

In February 2014, at the launch ceremony for the cultural village Katara in Doha, the Chairman of the QTA, HE Issa bin Mohammed Al Mohannadi, officially announced the Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030, a roadmap that draws heavily from the QNV 2030 and which does much to suggest that the 2022 FIFA World Cup is not the culmination of all of Qatar’s hard work, but simply the beginning of its more prominent position on the global tourism agenda. According to the strategy, SMEs, along with the private sector at large, are set to play a larger role in the development of the tourism industry. If all goes to plan, by 2030 tourists visiting Qatar will be spending $10.7 billion annually and coming from a more diverse range of countries. The country now targets 7 million visitors a year, and a sector GDP contribution of 5.1%, up from 2.6% currently. In terms of 2022, however, arrivals are expected to rise at a CAGR of 1.9%, while government investment of $65 billion, mainly in infrastructure, is providing a long-term incentive for companies in the tourism sector. And in preparation for the World Cup, and on top of expansions in hotel capacity, the opening of Hamad International Airport will have a huge impact, replacing Doha International Airport. The new hub has a capacity for 30 million passengers, a figure expected to increase to over 50 million when extensions are fully completed beyond 2015. On top of that, the new QAR50 million Doha Metro will also make the city a more attractive destination all round.

WHAT TO DO

While many will forever associate their trips to Qatar with the 2022 FIFA World Cup, for those that spend time getting to know the capital, Doha, and its surroundings, there is so much more to write home about. The Corniche is one such gem, stretching four miles along the harbor. Lined with all the best the city has to offer, the walk offers visitors the chance to see traditional dhows while breathing in the air breezing in off of the Indian Ocean. Another must-see is Souq Waqif, one of the oldest and largest examples of a souq in the Gulf. The destination has undergone a major makeover, with shops now remodeled with mud-rendered fronts in the style of a 19th century souq. Tourists can hope to pick up anything from spices and perfumes to garments, handicrafts, and local coffee. And for those looking to get out of Doha, Al-Khor is at the top of many itineraries. Just up the coast from the capital, this old village sports a traditional fish market as well as pristine beaches. For the adventurous type, heading to the opposite coast from Doha will land you in Bir Zekreet, boasting superb beaches and surrounded by desert and sand dunes. In land, Khor al-Adaid, known as the Inland Sea, is popular with day trippers and those looking to set up camp alike. Put Khor al-Adaid on your agenda if you are looking to try your hand at camel riding or even sand skiing.

IN SAFE HANDS

When it comes to envisaging a better future for the country’s tourism sector, Qatar has the right people, and institutions, at the helm. The QTA, which works to organize, enable, and supervise tourism industry development in Qatar, as well as promote the nation in niche areas, such as MICE tourism, education, and sports, is backed up by the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Heritage, at the head of which is HE Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari. The Minister, in an interview with TBY, recognized the challenges faced by Qatar as it steps onto the global tourism stage; “It is true that this development puts pressure on national identity as the country is experiencing rapid change and people from all over the world are flocking to Qatar to build their future.” Ever ready, however, the QNV 2030, “anticipated these developments, and, thus, included a strong emphasis on maintaining and preserving Qatari traditions and culture.”

One such way Qatar intends to preserve its culture is through its multitude of museums. Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of the Qatar Museums Board of Trustees, puts it best when she said, in a speech reproduced on page 182, “between the Museum of Islamic Art, Katara, public art, and our thriving art galleries, there is truly so much art and architecture to see and appreciate.” And for Sheikha Al Mayassa, enriching Qatar’s cultural experience is about so much more than just bringing in tourists; “it nurtures the transformation of a hydrocarbon nation to one based on diversity by supporting and establishing creative networks.” Discussing the vision of the Qatar Museums Board, Sheikha Al Mayassa highlighted Qatar’s hosting of the 38th UNESCO Heritage Conference, where Qatar’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, the ancient fort of Al Zubarah in the north of the country, was named.

A whole host of exhibitions also took place over 2014, including by world-famous artists such as Damien Hirst and Richard Serra. And at the Annual International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) Conference 2014, Mathaf: the Arab Museum of Modern Art, graduated the museum to a company of institutions across the global arts world, including in Chicago, Tokyo, and San Francisco. “At Mathaf, we place art from the Arab world as a core mission to our programs; we also focus on education as a key mission of our exhibitions,” said Sheikha Al Mayassa.

HE Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari is also vocal when it comes to praising Qatar’s diverse array of museums and galleries, suggesting that, “the emphasis on culture in Qatar is now being recognized all over the world and great artists are coming here to exhibit their works.” This image is best represented by the growing international fame of the Museum of Islamic Art. Located in Doha, the Museum of Islamic Art has a collection spanning 1,400 years and runs regular courses and workshops, holds talks and concerts, and stages numerous exhibitions throughout the year. And while this growing fabric of attractions will do much to entertain visitors to the country, the Minister is also recognizes the importance of preserving the nation’s heritage for the next generation; “we need to inspire our youth to build a full and rich life. An important element here… is to help them understand culture, the arts, and our heritage.”

Despite the hype surrounding the World Cup, Qatar is playing a longer game. The new tourism strategy is proof the government is looking beyond 2022 at the legacy the greatest sporting competition on Earth will leave behind. If the country can boost its profile sufficiently to keep people visiting long after the competition, its investments in infrastructure and new hotel capacity will not only have paid off, but be paying for themselves in the years to come.

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