QATAR’S ambitions to increase tourist numbers by 50 per cent by the end of the decade will be boosted by resort complexes opening, the continuing and astonishing progress of the national airline and the country’s rocketing reputation as a sports tourism destination.
The government looks to be on target so far, but in the future will have to continue to develop Qatar’s brand to justify its investments.
The overall travel and tourism sector in Qatar was expected to generate over $9.5bn of economic activity in 2007, contributing 1.6 per cent to GDP, according to the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC). Currently the bulk of the industry’s revenue comes from business travellers.
Qatar is aiming to attract 1.5m tourists a year by 2010, up from 975,000 in 2006 – itself an impressive increase of a third on the preceding year, according to the Qatar Tourism Authority. This will go hand in hand with the increase in the number of rooms available in hotels and tourist apartments from 7500 now to 26,000 in 2012. Some 6000 extra rooms will become available this year alone, Qatar Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (QTEA) chairman Ahmed AM al-Nuaimi has said. To this end, Qatar is investing $15bn in tourism in the period from 2004 to 2012, with much of the cash going into high end developments.
Currently, there can be shortages of accommodation at peak times, and most of the hotels are used to catering for business travellers – one luxury hotel general manager told OBG that the proportion of business visitors to tourists at his establishment is around 9:1.
However, developments underway, like The Pearl and Lusail, will improve the accommodation and entertainment options for tourists. The Pearl is a four sq km island that will include three luxury hotels with more than 900 rooms, four marinas with spaces for more than 700 boats, and a variety of community and entertainment areas. The 32 sq km Lusail development just north of Doha will include ten resort hotels, two golf courses and 300,000 sq m of retail shopping.
The planned growth in tourism should be supported by the meteoric development of Qatar Airways. Last year the airline announced almost $30bn worth of investments in its fleet, which will almost double to around 150 aircraft by 2015. The airline will help raise the country’s visibility and accessibility and increase the number of people transiting through; through co-ordinated tourism promotion, they can also be persuaded to make a stopover of a few days. Dubai, for example, has already profited from encouraging stopovers.
The real estate and airline developments are large and ambitious indeed, and will have to be marketed strongly and developed carefully, as they will compete directly with similar projects in other Gulf countries. Like other countries in the region, Qatar faces the challenge of distinguishing itself from its neighbours and finding niches in the regional tourism sector. The country looks to have found one in sport, in which it is among the leaders in the Gulf. The peninsula hosts the Total Open, a tennis tournament, the golf Qatar Masters and MotoGP, motorcycling’s Grand Prix. It also hosted the Asian Games in December 2006, significantly raising the country’s profile as a host of sporting events and endowing it with a superb infrastructure for doing so.
However, these occasions are of course fleeting, providing a flurry of interest and a large influx of visitors for only short periods at a time. While Qatar is looking to develop its sporting academies and encourage major sports teams to visit for tours or training as well, whether these will have a significant feed-on effect to increasing tourism numbers is questionable.
The government’s target of increasing tourist numbers by the end of the decade seems, on current form and given developments in the pipeline, eminently achievable. However, beyond 2010, the authorities will have to continue to promote Qatar and find new niches to keep those new rooms occupied.
By Oliver Cornock
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