HAVING gone through a period of dormancy during the 1980s – and most of the next decade as well – Qatar’s hotel industry suddenly sprung to life a couple of years ago.
And it hasn’t looked back since. The newest of the five-star hotels – the InterContinental and The Ritz-Carlton, Doha – have already been on the scene a couple of years and have made a good attempt to steal all the limelight. But plenty of competition is in the pipeline. Four Seasons is to open a new property in Doha in the summer of 2004, while the West Bay Resort, adjacent to The Ritz-Carlton, Doha, will probably open in mid 2005.
Hilton, Radisson and Shangri-La are also coming in soon. Marriott International has announced proposals to open three new properties in Qatar in 2007. What’s more, there are exciting proposals for a man-made island resort full of hotel and villa options, and a new resort has recently opened at Al Ghariyah, in the north.
However, the country recognises the need for accommodation to suit all budgets. So there has been activity in the four-, three- and two-star and furnished apartment sectors as well as a new emphasis on resort-style facilities.
Qatar’s fledgling tourism industry set out initially to attract high net-worth travellers from Europe, the Americas and the Far East, but has now wisely recognised the potential of regional markets – especially nationals and residents of other GCC States.
The InterContinental opened in November 2000 for the OIC Summit; the Ritz-Carlton and the Moevenpick opened in October 2001 in time for the WTO ministerial conference. Between them, they added 245, 374 and 154 rooms respectively to a previous 1,200 or so in those categories. The four-star Rydges Plaza also opened in Doha last year, the second property to be opened by the Australian chain in the Gulf – their other property is in Dubai. General Manager, David Tonkin, says the hotel, overlooking Al Bidda Park and the Corniche, is well located for the business traveller, the focus of the hotel’s marketing policy.
At the same time, more modest accommodation was augmented with the opening of the 87-bed Gulf Horizons in the Souq area. Another popular new business hotel is Al Sadd Merweb, on al Sadd Street, managed by the Merweb subsidiary of Qatar National Hotels, but with the F&B outlets and the bar run by John Mathew’s Sterling Group.
RENOVATIONS, UPGRADES AND EXPANSIONS
Even the newest hotels in Qatar are constantly augmenting their facilities and services, looking for marketing opportunities. Over the summer of 2004, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha, is to further develop its beach area. There is to be a beach-cleaning campaign, additional soft sand will be trucked in, a cabana will be built to serve snacks and cloakroom/changing room and shower facilities will be made available on the beach. Pagodas are already in place, but until now, sunbeds have only been set out at the request of individual guests or groups. With the hotel’s new focus on the beach, they will be available automatically on a regular basis once the work is complete.
Those hotels which have been around for the past couple of decades – the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort, the Doha Marriott, the Ramada, the Sofitel (now rebranded as Mercure) and the Oasis Hotel & Beach Resort – have all undergone major refurbishment programmes and some are still continuing. Apart from refurbishment of rooms and public areas, common moves have been to increase the number of F&B outlets as the hotels look for new ways to attract the local population on a daily basis.
Work is also starting round about now to refurbish Sealine Beach Resort in Mesaieed, a property that recently reverted to QNH management from Moevenpick. Close to the spectacular dunes of Khor Al Udeid (the inland sea) the resort will have easy access to an area that is well on its way to establishment as a natural reserve.
The Ramada hotel celebrates its 25th anniversary in November and has been “performing extremely well with a more than satisfying increase of occupancy,” says general manager Gordon Mackenzie. “In fact, we are seeing a need for greater capacity.”
He says that looking at the figures, “a 212-room extension would make an extremely viable proposition. The planned extension should include five new F&B outlets and will also focus very much on added meeting and conference space.”
In the meantime, “we will start the refurbishment of our lobby in the first week of April,” says Mackenzie, “which will definitely upgrade the whole appearance of the Ramada and will meet the needs of our market, which is mainly corporate business.” There are also plans, he says, for the Ramada to open a new F&B facility to seat up to 750 people, that would be located just outside the hotel.
The Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort has already celebrated its 20th anniversay – it was opened in 1982 – and has undergone extensive renovation. The top six floors – three Executive and three Towers floors – have all been renovated over the past three years; by the end of 2004, rooms on the first five floors will also have undergone renovation, giving all the rooms a bright new look. The Salwa Ballroom was completely revamped last year, and the original gym (near the bowling alley) was moved to a new location next to La Veranda restaurant. New state-of-the-art equipment was introduced, along with several extra rooms for aerobics, ballet and martial arts etc; with huge windows overlooking Doha Bay, it made working-out a very pleasing experience!
The hotel has, for 12 years, hosted some of the world’s top tennis players as they’ve visited Doha to compete in the Qatar ExxonMobil open, an annual ATP event. Table Tennis and Squash stars stay there; so do cyclists and competitors in many other events. And the hotel is attracting spectators too! Whether tennis, table tennis, athletics or motor-sports is the sport of your choice, Sheraton Doha Hotel & Resort is ready to ensure the ultimate experience with tailor-made sports holidays.
Setting the stage for these sports events and the World Table Tennis Championship (in March), the Athletics Grand Prix Tour (in May) and Qatar Moto Grand Prix (in September) is the team of Sheraton Doha Hotel & Resort. The hotel offers not just accommodation, but tickets for the events with after-event tours around historical sites, traditional and cultural excursions, as well as variety of evening programs and day trips to add that extra special value to the holiday. Potential guests just choose the sport of their choice and contact the hotel. The team will then send them a detailed tailor-made itinerary for a unique and memorable holiday in true Arabian style.
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