Change is the key

With an ever-evolving skyline, growing sport and leisure facilities and a host of world-class events, Qatar has emerged as a top travel destination, writes GINA COLEMAN

EVEN frequent visitors to Qatar are amazed by the current pace of change – and occasional visitors often can’t believe they’re in the same place!

Development is rapid, bringing in a host of new hotels and resorts, while existing leisure and sports facilities are also expanding. The number of shopping malls and entertainment facilities is mushrooming and the proposed new causeway to link Qatar with Bahrain will make Qatar a truly central destination for those moving throughout the Gulf by road.
As future host of the 15th Asian Games, in December 2006, Qatar is already a major centre for international sporting events in the Middle East, including tennis, squash, athletics, golf, cycling and sailing events, Formula I powerboat races, motorcycle and car rallies, football, handball and other matches. The country has also hosted a number of large international conferences, including the WTO Ministerial Conference the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit and the FIFA gathering. A major conference on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG14) is being held in Doha in March 2004, and the capital city has already witnessed the Doha Development Forum this year, together with several other major marketing, investment and development conferences.
Qatar is the Arab world’s richest country in per capita terms. With miles of unspoilt desert, spectacular dune fields and a pristine Inland Sea, it is also a world leader in the export of clean energy and has the world’s third largest natural gas reserves. Environmental awareness and protection are therefore of prime concern and central to the country’s development.
Offering visitors a luxurious stay with state-of-the-art facilities, Qatar still retains the hospitality and traditions of its proud Bedouin heritage, forming a unique link between past, present and future in the Gulf. 
With a huge 29-storey office block, twin residential towers, 20 town houses and a magnificent Four Seasons Hotel, The West Bay Complex in Doha is changing Doha Bay’s familiar skyline. The office tower has been sold to Qatar Telecom (Qtel) – the country’s sole telecommunications provider – but the owner, first Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al Thani will continue to administer the rest of the complex through his own companies. Construction Development Company, the main contractors on site, say that the whole complex will be completed in June 2004.
The hotel – resembling joined twin towers, each topped by a coronet – will be managed by Four Seasons. The luxury hotel “that will match the George V in Paris in terms of amenities” will have 240 rooms, including one Royal Suite, four Presidential Suites and a number of Executive Suites. The ballroom will also function as a meeting room, and there will be a number of multi-purpose rooms available for conferences and seminars. In addition to the all-day restaurant, there will be an Italian restaurant, Cigar Lounge and Tea Lounge.
What was originally to be a Clubhouse, has now been redesigned as a Spa and will have “a number of exclusive features, many totally new to Qatar”. Twenty Town Houses – in five blocks of four – are being built right on the beach by the 110-berth Marina and will be available for rent. They and the two residential towers will have their own landscaped gardens and swimming pool, while the hotel will have three swimming pools. At 29-storeys and 158 metres, the office tower is currently the tallest building in the country.
Another new development rapidly taking shape is the West Bay Resort and Hotel, owned by the Tourism Development Co. It’s a 2-phase project. Now under construction, and due for completion by mid 2005, are 70 villas (121 units) covering around 42,000 square metres, that will make up the resort. The 74,000 sq m 350-room hotel, for which the conceptual design has been completed, will be phase 2.
The villas, right on the waterfront, will be surrounded by landscaped gardens with a large, lagoon-style, swimming pool with water features. Villas will be four or six bedroomed, and of one of three types. All bedrooms in the villas have en-suite bathrooms and there are kitchens, dining and lounge areas. While the developers envisage that some villas will be let as single units, others will be two self-contained units while there is also the possibility of offering some of the resort’s villas on a room-by-room basis.
Marriott International expects to open three new properties in Qatar, on adjacent sites, under a management agreement with Al Rayan Tourism Investment Company – all are scheduled for completion in 2007. (Presently, there are two existing Marriott-managed properties in Qatar – Doha Marriott, owned by Qatar National Hotels Company, and the Ramada, owned by Ghanem Al Thani Holdings.) The 250-room Renaissance will have two speciality restaurants, a casual restaurant offering buffet breakfasts lunches and dinners, a lobby lounge and theme bar. There will also be a fitness centre and swimming pool. To be located adjacent to the City Center-Doha, Renaissance will open some of its facilities to guests of the 200-room Courtyard by Marriott. In turn, long-stay guests at the 120-unit Marriott Executive Apartments will be able to access the F&B outlets at Courtyard, although the Marriott Executive apartments will have their own health and fitness facilities and a rooftop swimming pool.