GCC guests double in Qatar

Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) has just concluded its GCC Roadshow that ran from May 22 to 31 and toured Jeddah, Riyadh and Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Dubai covering the UAE market and Oman.

Hot on the heels of QTA’s GCC Roadshow and participation in the Arabian Travel Market, Rashed Al Qurese, executive director marketing and promotions, Qatar Tourism Authority, speaks to TTN in a detailed interview.

Have the feeder markets for Qatar changed slightly over the past year? Have GCC visitors become more prominent than international? Which country has performed the ‘best’ in terms of spend and which country has supplied the most number of tourists?

The GCC is not only our leading source of visitors, accounting for some 44 per cent of the worldwide total in 2015, but it is also growing very rapidly. GCC arrivals in Qatar have actually doubled since 2010, rising by 102 per cent in absolute terms over the past five years.

The big picture is that Qatar attracted a total of 2.93 million visitors in 2015, an increase of 3.7 per cent from 2014. But there has been a shift in source markets, with the growth of long-haul travel slowing in line with international economic and security uncertainties, and this has affected Qatar as it has other destinations in the region.

The number of GCC visitors soared by a remarkable 16 per cent in 2015, reaching a total of 1.3 million, which certainly overshadowed other source markets. But the 437,000 visitors from the important European market last year represented a very respectable annual growth rate of 4 per cent, while arrivals from the Americas and Africa were up 1 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. Visitor numbers from Asia and Oceania slipped by 6 per cent to 736,000 last year, so the overall picture was mixed.

We don’t monitor spending by nationality, though there is some evidence that, GCC visitors are major players. The top ten visitor nationalities in 2015 were: Saudi Arabia (855,555), India (375,910), UK (135,645), Bahrain (132,913), UAE (117,575), Oman (102,332), US (93,174), Egypt (92,036), Kuwait (91,843), and Pakistan (86,670).

What kind of travellers are you attracting? Any specific demographic?

Business-related travellers, including Mice delegates, currently account for an estimated 40 per cent and as at end 2015 total arrivals 2,929,630 with non-GCC amounting to 1,629,412 (55.5 per cent) and GCC arrivals amounting to 1,300,218 (44.5 per cent) of all visitors to Qatar, with leisure tourists making up the balance (50 per cent). However, we are seeing a gradual shift in this traditional pattern as we diversify our markets and attract more leisure holidaymakers, both from within the region and internationally.

On the leisure side, GCC visitors are a diverse group but are often families seeking a short break within the region, and we have been particularly successful in attracting regional family visitors to attend Qatar’s many major annual festivals and events.

International tourists are generally experienced travellers, seeking a combination of winter sun and new cultural experiences. They are often relatively affluent couples and/or families with young children. However, these are broad generalizations and, as Qatar’s tourist appeal grows, we are increasingly attracting a wider spectrum of visitors with a range of diversified interests.

What are some inbound trends that you are noticing in Qatar?

We have to distinguish between short-term trends reflecting the current international climate and longer-term developments that may be more lasting.

The main ongoing trends are expected to be the diversification of our visitor profile and source markets. This means that Qatar’s traditional strengths in the business travel and GCC markets will gradually become less pronounced over time, thanks to growth in other areas.

QTA will actively continue to market Qatar as a top international business events destination and within the GCC. But a major focus of our efforts is being devoted to promoting upmarket leisure tourism and to broadening the international spread of source markets, and this will continue in line with QTA’s growing international office network and increased promotional activity overseas.

What are some of the challenges QTA is facing this year?

We are realistic about the challenges we face but QTA generally prefers to take a longer-term view of our destination’s tourism prospects.

We are on track to achieve the goals of our Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy, which include raising annual visitor numbers to seven to nine million by 2030, and are quietly confident that Qatar has what it takes to secure its position among the top echelon of leading international quality destinations.

We believe consistency and persistence are two important values and qualities essential in successful long-term destination promotion. Even in difficult times it is vital to maintain a high profile in the global marketplace. This is doubly true for an emerging destination like Qatar that needs to build up international awareness in order to position itself to take full advantage when market conditions eventually improve.

What is the hotel pipeline for Qatar – how many rooms will enter the market this year and going forward?

Twenty new hotel properties opened in 2015, bringing almost 5,000 additional rooms to the market. As of the end of last year, Qatar had 98 hotels and 21 hotel apartment establishments providing total accommodation of more than 20,000 rooms.

Looking ahead, further substantial new hotel capacity is under development to meet the expected increase in visitor demand.

An estimated 20 hotels and hotel apartment properties are due to open in 2016, bringing with them approximately 4,000 rooms. Aside from those currently under construction, there are proposals for nearly 130 additional properties, under varying degrees of development, for potential additional expansion in future.

It is estimated that room rates will continue to decline for the fourth year in a row – is this a good thing? Room occupancy has also fallen this year due to the increased room inventory.

Hotels experienced strong demand growth in 2015, with the number of rooms sold up by 28 per cent over 2014. However, this was outstripped by the growth in supply, as available room nights increased by 32 per cent over the year. This resulted in a slight decline in average hotel occupancy from 73.1 per cent to 70.7 per cent.

Qatar is a dynamic, rapidly developing tourism market. At this stage in our development and with so much hotel construction under way, it is inevitable that there will be periodic imbalances between accommodation supply and demand. This is not a major long-term concern.

What’s the update on Hamad International Airport?

The aviation sector is one of the greatest assets we have in promoting Qatar as a destination. The superb international connectivity provided by Qatar Airways, coupled with the state-of-the-art facilities of Hamad International Airport, are of vital importance.

As regards HIA specifically, the fact that it was not only named the ‘Middle East’s Best Airport’ for the second year running, but also became the first airport in the region to enter the ‘World’s Top 10 Best Airports’ rankings at the 2016 Skytrax World Airport Awards.

These accolades tell their own story about HIA and its performance, since the Skytrax surveys are compiled from the votes of some 13 million international travellers from 110 countries, and therefore carry a great deal of weight.

Can you comment on the calendar of events for this year?

Qatar’s annual calendar of events covers a host of different festivals, conventions and conferences, trade exhibitions, sports tournaments, cultural performances and much more.

Starting with the festivals, we have a number of seasonal and holiday events, most notably the Qatar Summer Festival and two Eid festivals. These are organized by QTA and are major nationwide celebrations, featuring a wide range of entertainment shows, mall promotions, prize competitions and kids’ play zones.

Other annual festivals focus on different themes, ranging from QTA’s own very popular Qatar International Food Festival to events celebrating cultural and traditional pastimes and special interests, including pearl diving, kite flying, books, films, falconry and the dhow festival.

On the business events side, we host a wide variety of trade exhibitions, conferences and other business-related meetings in Doha and these attract large numbers of international delegates. In addition to annual trade fairs, such as Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition, Qatar Motor Show, Project Qatar and others, we regularly host top level conventions on behalf of the UN and other multilateral bodies.

Winning the rights to stage 2022 FIFA World Cup finals, has really focused global attention on Qatar as a venue for top class sporting events, and we have established an excellent track record of successfully hosting major events such as the 2006 Asian Games, 2011 AFC Asian Cup and 2015 Men’s World Handball Championships, among other world and regional tournaments.

Qatar put on a full annual calendar of events on the championship circuits of their respective sports.