Sheraton to create 'hotel in a hotel'
Qatar's first five-star property, the 20-year-old pyramid-shaped Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort is to undergo an expansion that general manager Robert van Meerendonk says will create "a hotel within a hotel".The hotel has hosted international summits including gatherings of Gulf heads of state and leaders of the Islamic Conference Organisation states and has been selected as the main centre for the World Trade Organisation conference in November. Sheraton Doha recently completed the addition of new capacity including three new floors providing 100 rooms and an executive lounge. Among the new attractions are a health club with a 380 sq m gymnasium overlooking the sea and a bar called Alegria. Expansion work beginning in December will cover two floors, a new upper floor with 50 rooms and facilities including a bar and discotheque on the ground floor. "These two floors will form the towers section which will have a new lounge, thereby making it a hotel within a hotel," said Van Meerendonk. The 50 rooms are designed to be upmarket, equipped with the latest technology, interactive TV and computer links. The hotel prides itself in the views it offers of the sea, the Corniche and the city and is marketing some of its restaurants as "windows on Doha". Its Salwa Ballroom is to be completely renovated next year. Sheraton Doha plans to organise, possibly for next year, a world-class sailing regatta in association with the Doha Sailing Association. The hotel will serve as the headquarters hotel for the event, which Van Meerendonk said would "stimulate" the water sports market. He listed sports as one of the important attractions for the inbound tourist along with shopping and visits to natural and historic sights. "Water sports offer great opportunities and we have fabulous water sports facilities at the hotel including sailing, fishing and water skiing. We're a resort and we're stimulating that market," said Van Meerendonk. Another sport which he says has the potential to draw tourists is golf. "People who play golf in Europe have money and enjoy good health and are interested in touring. The Gulf region is a perfect destination for upmarket golf players," he said. "We're already featured in dozens of programmes selling golf packages in Doha." Van Meerendonk said golf players were interested in playing two days at a time in each of the Gulf cities, a situation he said his hotel would capitalise on. Some 6,000 visitors including 1,500 media persons are expected to show up at the upcoming WTO conference, for which Sheraton Doha has been appointed headquarters hotel. Some 900 additional staff will be on hand to ensure everything operates smoothly. "It will be a golden opportunity for the marketing of Doha," said Van Meerendonk. At last year's Islamic summit, 40 heads of state or their representatives were present. Sheraton Doha is concentrating on the European market, particularly Germany, and has built up co-operation with major German tour operators including Kuoni, DER, Air Tours, Tischler and Bischofsberger. Following the launch of the Munich-Doha flights by Qatar Airways a few years ago, the expansion of business from the German-speaking part of Europe at the hotel has been averaging 10 per cent per year. It is now looking at drawing tourists from other European spots including Paris and London with KLM and British Airways already flying out from there into Doha. The marketing push is also taking in Scandinavia and Australia through the owning company Qatar National Hotels Corporation that has other hotel properties in Doha including the Marriott and the upcoming Ritz Carlton, Movenpick and Sealine Resort. Sheraton Doha, part of the Starwood Group of Hotels, is also working in conjunction with Qatar Airway Holidays to develop Destination Qatar holiday packages. Incoming tourism will be facilitated by the support the Starwood Group can provide for boosting tourist numbers through its network and facilities including a sophisticated electronic reservation system. Van Meerendonk expects the newly formed state Tourism Council to be a catalyst for development of the industry.