Figures to the end of November 2004 show that Qatar’s hotels enjoyed average occupancy of 76 per cent throughout the year – a substantial year-on-year increase and witness to its rapidly-developing MICE market.
In fact, during several periods last year the country witnessed 100-percent occupancy of its hotels, with anyone trying to make last-minute bookings for a visit totally out of luck.
And it wasn’t just the five- and four-star hotels that were full either; the smaller properties were jam-packed and even the short-stay serviced apartments were full. All that news makes the scheduled opening of several new properties this year and over the next few years even more welcome. Right now, there are around two dozen new projects in discussion, on the drawing board, under construction – or about to open.
The economy is booming, and the commercial sector is growing. Qatar’s GDP grew by an estimated 20.5 per cent in 2004 Qatar; the private sector attracted foreign investment to the tune of $4.5 billion in 2004; a record 2,568 commercial registrations for new businesses were issued by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce last year; and inflation for the first half of the year hit 6 per cent. GDP per capita reached a staggering $36,000.
The economic boom is undoubtedly attracting more companies and, apart from numerous smaller shopping malls under construction in the centre of town and on its outskirts, there’s Villagio, which is being built close to the new Khalifa Sports City, venue for many of the events scheduled in the 15th Asian Games in Doha in December 2006 with its 50,000-seat Khalifa Stadium and Aspire Sports Academy’s huge sports dome for indoor events.
Adjacent to the existing Hyatt Plaza shopping centre, Villagio will have 220 stores and 130,000 sq m of retail space. Developed by the same company as the existing Landmark mall on the northern fringes of the city, all the Villagio units have already been let. Landmark itself opened in 2000 with 30,000 sq m of retail space but extended that to 40,000 in 2002 and is set to add yet another 18,000 sq m. Qatar’s very first shopping mall, The Mall, has also expanded twice. The country’s largest mall at present is City Center-Doha with a 14-screen cineplex, ice-rink, Xtreme sports area, ten-pin bowling, general entertainment and exhibition areas and huge food courts.
REGION’S SPORTS CAPITAL
Qatar has truly established itself as the region’s sports capital and the 2005 calendar is bursting with international championships and tournaments while preparations are well on course for our hosting of the 15th Asiad, Doha 2006. So far this year, Qatar has hosted regional, international and world championship events in men’s and women’s tennis, table tennis, squash, badminton, football, volleyball, basketball, fencing, gymnastics, wakeboard and waterskiing ... to name but a few.
Construction is well advanced for the Asian Games village, which will provide accommodation, training and medical facilities for the athletes participating in the Asian Games; after the games, the complex will be transformed into Hamad Medical city. A new Broadcasting Centre for the Games is being constructed adjacent to the Qatar International Exhibition Centre, which will be the media centre, and a cluster of new tower blocks in the immediate vicinity will provide accommodation for accredited media representatives during the Games.
In the meantime, Qatar has bought a European tennis tournament, paying 6.7 million euros for the Berlin WTA, which will be organised jointly this year by the German Tennis Federation (DTB) and the Qatar Tennis Federation (QTF) in Berlin in May. The tournament will then be brought to Qatar in 2006 or 2007 to replace the existing February WTA Total Women’s tournament which has figured in Doha’s sporting calendar for the past few years. For this year’s Qatar-Berlin WTA, Qatar will have several pavilions at the German venue – yet another way of promoting its tourism potential.
QTF President, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Faleh Al Thani, says that the 2005 Qatar-Berlin WTA tournament, with its extensive European TV coverage, “will give Qatar big exposure”, adding, “Last year, the tournament was viewed in 100 million homes.” When it moves to Doha, the tournament will be played at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, which has also been approved as the venue for tennis, soft tennis and squash in the 15th Asiad. With a projected 34 competition-standard courts it will, says Sheikh Mohammed, “be one of the biggest tennis complexes in the world.”
Apart from the sports-related infrastructure being developed for the Asian Games and beyond, Qatar’s road network is being continually upgraded with a further series of underpasses and flyovers to ease traffic flow on through roads and intersections. A new taxi service, Mowasalat, was introduced by The Transport Company, which is also to introduce a modern public bus service. (The existing bus routes serve rural areas only, with an old fleet of vehicles.) And the country is involved in discussions with a German company completing a feasibility study for a train network that would cover Qatar and link it to other Gulf states.
The new museums, of Islamic Arts, Natural History, Science, and Photography, together with the new National Library, will create a new cultural area, and the 10 million sq m Education City with its Science and Technology Park, are attracting leading educational and research institutions as well as multinational companies.
As the population continues to grow (from around 522,000 in 1997 to 744,000 in 2003) and projections for tourism predict one million visitors a year within the next couple of years, Qatar is an increasingly popular destination in the region, having been voted the second most popular GCC city in which to live after Dubai.
Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) regularly takes part in travel and tourism exhibitions, conferences and seminars, promoting the country as a “once seen, never forgotten” destination – a dynamic business and industrial hub that hasn’t lost touch with its traditions. WTM in London last year was, say QTA officials, a particularly exhilarating experience, a number of agreements signed between QTA and major travel operators. In the first quarter of 2005, QTA is scheduled to participate in several major events.
With its own stands at these exhibitions, QTA invites the participation of Qatar’s hotels, clubs, leisure and fitness centres, inbound tourism operators and local tour companies – in fact, all those involved in business and leisure tourism who are interested in promoting their services overseas. You may recently have seen the innovative advertising campaign on BBC World TV which promotes Qatar as a destination at the same time as promoting its airline, and a second campaign promoting Qatar together with the women’s tennis tournament.
Qatar began the year on an optimistic note the foundation stone for the New Doha International Airport being laid – a project that will keep Qatar at the forefront of air transportation well into the late 21st Century. A truly auspicious start to 2005. The Qatar Tourism Authority is justifiably optimistic for developments in the coming year.