Qatar eyes the MICE market

Fred van Eijk … ‘We can now market ourselves as a MICE destination on the basis of our experience’

VER the past couple of years, Qatar has been attracting thousands of overseas visitors to the country through the development of its MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) market.

It provides a safe, hospitable, attractive and efficient venue – and many visitors can apply for a visa on-line through the Internet, or at least on arrival in the country.
The International Liquefied Natural Gas Conference & Exhibition (LNG 14), which recently concluded in Doha, attracted around 3,000 delegates from across the globe – the largest-ever attendance; the exhibition was also on a bigger scale than any in the series' history since LNG1 was held in Chicago in 1965. Qatar is the first country in the Gulf or Middle East to have been selected as a host (although Algeria hosted LNG 4 and will host LNG 16 in 2010).
The country has successfully hosted such events as the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit and Emergency Summit; the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Economic Conference and the WTO 14th Ministerial Conference. The FIFA conference was held in Doha earlier this year, as was the recent Asia-Pacific Human Rights Conference. The country has been selected as host by numerous organisers who have never before even considered a venue in the region.
In December 2006, Doha will host the Asian Games with over 10,000 athletes, coaches and organisers coming in - in addition to all the spectators. A special Asiad Village is being built to house them and provide on-the-spot medical and training facilities. It will later become Hamad Medical City. Major infrastructural developments to be completed before then include a super-highway road network. When the country's new three-phase airport is completed in 2015, it will be able to handle 50 million passengers a year.
The number of available hotels, resorts and service apartments has been rising dramatically, and around two dozen new hotel and projects are on the cards. Plus scores of residential blocks or compounds in Qatar specialise in hosting conference delegates. Even so, hotel occupany doesn’t drop below 69 or 70 per cent during the year, and sometimes goes up to 100 per cent – so booking well in advance is getting to be more and more of a priority.
Taxi and limousine services continue to be upgraded, and the fleets of buses used to ferry conference delegates run like clockwork with unhindered passage ensured by police escort, when the buses need to travel in convoy. Audio-visual, translation and IT support for the conferences is excellent, and the country has shown itself capable of designing spectacular, innovative and attractive opening and closing ceremonies too.
This year alone over 50 international conferences have already been scheduled for Doha.
“Qatar has a strong track record with regard to its hospitality and the nation’s ability to organise these events,” says Fred van Eijk, CEO of the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA). “We can now market ourselves as a MICE destination on the basis of our experience.” Certainly, past event organisers have had nothing but praise for Qatar as a host country.
With heavy demand from conference organisers, there are always likely to be several major events running simultaneously in the country. “We established the Doha Convention Bureau in January,” says van Eijk, “and their first priority was to get a grip on co-ordination.” A department within the QTA, it publishes a calendar of events for the year – in English and Arabic – on its website and mails out hardcopies to interested parties. The Bureau takes feedback from all the ministries and government organisations, and from private organisations, so that it knows what is happening and where. “The calendar is updated on-line as soon as we get new information, so it's a live document.”
The calendar also helps local organisations and interest groups plan their activities alongside related conferences or exhibitions. The QTA itself does not book – or block – events, but acts as a first point of contact for potential organisers. It also advises on periods in the year when they think it's most suitable to stage events, to have a conference or activity.
MICE event organisers are recommended to study the country's events calendar and contact each other directly if there appears to be a potential ‘clash’ in dates and timings. “We know that dates for international conferences are often set two or more years in advance, but there may some flexibility in, for example, ensuring that the timings of opening sessions aren’t the same,” says van Eijk  .
The need for coordination is not, adds van Eijk, symptomatic of a lack of communication – just an indication of how much busier Qatar has become. It’s getting even busier, because organisers and delegates alike are going away and recommending the venue to their colleagues.