THE Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) is actively promoting the country as a quality destination for business and leisure travellers, also emphasising facilities for education and sports in the country.
Fred van Eijk, the CEO of QTA, explains: “We are working to develop Qatar as a leading quality destination in terms of all those sectors, so we are capturing different elements; we are targetting visitors from overseas, but also people living and working in Qatar. We emphasise sports and education because they are important values in the country and play an important role in its development. We also believe it helps to differentiate us from other countries.”
The QTA, adds van Eijk, promotes the development of sports in the country as much as it can. “We are, for example, supporting the International Sailing Regatta in Doha, and in February we also supported a team of young sailors – boys and girls – from one of the schools here when they competed in Bahrain,” he says.
“Qatar is fortunate enough to host a range of major international sporting events; we also see that the country’s sports federations have become more professional in marketing the events. Where else in the world could you leave your office, drive for just ten minutes to a high-tech tennis stadium, and see the Number 1 in the world – free of charge? The equestrian events generate huge interest; so do squash; world championship table tennis and power-boat racing; the Tour of Qatar cycle race; and the forthcoming motorcycle Grand Prix. The cycling and the Qatar Masters golf tournament each March are shown daily on international TV stations. Those are just a few examples.”
The QTA’s role, he says, is to promote the country – and the hotel, club and public facilities – to residents and visitors alike. “More nationals and residents now remain in Qatar over the summer, partly because we organise an annual summer festival, but also because there is just so much more to do here – including sports. So why not spend at least part of your vacation in the country where you live?”
The country has also, over the past couple of years, been attracting thousands of overseas visitors to Qatar through the development of MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) markets. “Qatar has a strong track record with regard to its hospitality and the nation’s ability to organise these events,” says van Eijk. “We can now market ourselves as a MICE destination on the basis of our experience. “
With heavy demand from conference organisers, there are always likely to be several major events running simultaneously in the country. “We established the Doha Convention Bureau in January,” says van Eijk, “and their first main priority was to get a grip on co-ordination.” A department within the QTA, it publishes a calendar of events for the year – in English and Arabic – on its website: www.experienceqatar.com and mails out hardcopies to interested parties. The Bureau takes feedback from all the ministries and government organisations, and from private organisations, so that it knows what is happening and where. “The calendar is updated online as soon as we get new information, so it’s a live document.” The calendar also helps local organisations and interest groups plan their activities alongside related conferences or exhibitions, “We send the information to anyone who wants to know, and especially to everyone who gives us information. We don’t book things – or block things – but we’re here as a first point of contact,” says van Eijk.
The leisure market, he adds, focuses mainly on individuals and small groups. “Usually the more discerning traveller; principally, those with an interest in the culture and traditions of the country and the region.” In the past, that mainly meant retired or semi-retired professionals with a high disposable income. “But now we see a greater emphasis on younger people who have a thirst to see the world and Qatar has wonderful facilities for young families.”
Only now, according to van Eijk, are people beginning to think of Qatar as a ‘stand alone’ destination, rather than in conjunction with a second or third regional destination. “Over Christmas and New Year, we attracted a lot of families from Europe. We are expanding that market through our presence at major travel fairs around the world and through the Qatar tourism board offices overseas.” There are currently offices in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France and Russia. “We are looking at other possible counties to open offices,” says the CEO, “but, for the time being, we will be handling marketing in the Middle East region from Qatar. In considering new locations for tourism board offices, we look first at the Qatar Airways network; you can’t develop a destination without transport. So our first priority is those potential markets served by Qatar Airways as our national carrier. We then look at other potential markets with direct flights or good connections. However, we obviously don’t exclude markets simply because they are, at present, only served by other airlines!”
Qatar Airways has been used as a carrier of choice over the past year by travel groups from Indonesia and Malaysia, heading to Europe and North Africa. Sometimes, they have several hours in transit and Qatar Airways has delighted the groups by offering the opportunity of a transit visa and the chance to get out of Doha International Airport for breakfast at one of the hotels and a city tour. However, van Eijk stresses one very important point: “We don’t want just to promote Qatar as a stop-over destination, even though Qatar Airways has its hub in Doha. We think the country deserves more than that definition. Nevertheless, while we were at the travel fair in Italy this year we had very positive discussions with the tourism minister from the Maldives. Over 140,000 holidaymakers travel from Italy to Mahe each year, many of them passing through Doha; we would like to make Qatar an equal partner in the destination package for travellers such as those.”
(For more information, log on to Qatar Tourism Authority website at www.experienceqatar.com or the new Foreign Information Agency (FIA) site at www.qatarinfo.net.qa)
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