Family paradise

The Doha museum.

An exciting blend of the traditional and modern, Qatar is gearing up to offer itself as an ideal family holiday destination in the Gulf for both regional and international travellers.

Golden dunes of the Arabian desert, miles and miles of white sandy and uncrowded beaches, pleasant breeze throughout most of the year, famous Qatari pearls, gold and spice souks, fish markets with the catch of the day, amazing (and inexpensive) fusion of traditional and international cuisine, luxurious hotels, shopping malls, entertainment centres for children, sea and sun is what Qatar offers visitors.

Add to these the aromas of Arabic coffee, perfumes and incenses and you have a perfect recipe for a wonderful family vacation.

A thumb-shaped peninsula in the Gulf, Qatar is also a home today to some of the leading sporting events in the region including the European PGA golf tournament, the Qatar Masters, which takes place next month.

Its capital Doha is a modern, cosmopolitan city which retains its traditional Middle Eastern flavour and spirit with the municipal authorities ensuring that the modern architecture incorporates elements of traditional Arabic designs.

There is much for a visitor to do in Qatar. Most of the five-star hotels have marinas, so sailing is an easy option to take. There is also great opportunities for diving, fishing, swimming or on land, tennis or a round of golf at one of the region's top golf courses at the Doha Golf Club.

"Qatar's geographical location, natural resources and very secure environment provide it with an enormous potential to become a tourist paradise and a destination for business travellers," says the recently established Qatar General Tourism Authority (QGTA).

The authority is the manifestation of the government's commitment to develop and promote Qatar as a tourist destination.

Qatar actively began welcoming tourists and developing its services sector in 1989 and this process has been given a big impetus with the establishment of QGTA through an Amiri decree a year ago.

The authority's mission is to develop, coordinate and manage tourism in Qatar in order to maximise its benefits to the local economy, and to preserve the Qatari culture and traditions.

QGTA says it aims to consolidate efforts by individual organisations such as hotels, clubs, shopping malls, tour operators and event organisers into one countrywide programme.

It says it will organise entertainment festivals for children and families, shopping promotions, desert trips, business events and meetings and sporting events to attract visitors.

Qatar already is a regular venue for Gulf ladies tennis tournament and an annual tennis cup for men, Qatar Masters as well as international boat, bike and motto races.

The country has been awarded the 2006 Asian Games, defeating rival bids from Hong Kong, New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur.

QGTA says its will also concentrate on organising festivals, attractions and events to encourage the local population to spend more time and money at home.

"This is a very important and strategically correct time to launch tourism industry in Qatar on a wider scale," says QGTA.

"The key to success is to make Qatar a more interesting and exciting destination for families and business travellers."

QGTA says there is a noticeable trend of local families planning less overseas vacations due to the September 11 events in the US which has resulted in tighter visa and security procedures in many countries.

"This summer a lot of local families will opt for more or less nearer destinations. Our job will be to encourage them to spend summer at home, and invite some family friends to join them in Qatar and, of course, have lots of fun," says general manager David Tewelde.

Qatar has eased its visa regulations to encourage more visitors to come to the country and the QGTA has initiated regular interactive workshops with the representatives of all sectors of the local tourism industry to aid the process.

The result of the first workshop held in January proved that the hotels, media, tour operators, clubs and shopping malls understand and support the idea of promoting Qatar as a single added value package, says the authority.

"No doubt the amount of work we have ahead of us here in Qatar is enormous and our position is challenging, if anything. But we are confident that we can bring our good ideas to life," says Tewelde.

"Qatar General Tourism Authority is actively participating in the events taking place in the country and is contributing to Qatar's competitive edge by monitoring the services provided by the hotels and tour operators. We ensure that tourists coming to Qatar get what they expect and more."

QGTA will also organise Qatar's participation in international tourism fairs. This year's plan includes participation at major industry shows including BIT 2002 (Borsa International Tourism Exchange) in Milan, ITB 2002 in Berlin this month, Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, EIBTM 2002 in Geneva, CIS Travel Market 2002, World Travel Market in London.

The authority is also setting up a database on leading tour operators throughout the world, statistics on the hotels occupancy and general tourism development trends and figures, which will be available to the hotels, tour operators, clubs and airlines.

Qatar's international airport is now under renovation and other major developments are continuing in the country's infrastructure and hospitality industry.

In addition to the recently built international hotels - Inter-Continental, Movenpick and Ritz-Carlton, Qatar will also soon get more international hotel chains such as Holiday Inn and Four Seasons Hotel.