Ease visa rules to lure tourists

The Ramada Hotel, Doha ... business growing steadily over the past six years.

Qatar's tourism aspirations would benefit greatly if changes are made to regulations relating to obtaining visas and visa charges, a senior hotel official has said.

Ramada Hotel director of sales Ian Lillie pointed out it was very difficult for tourists to get a visa on arrival while most GCC states had already relaxed their laws to enable visitors to have the document on landing, a move inspired by the need to boost tourism.

"The issue has to be resolved soon considering that Qatar's hotel infrastructure has expanded and is set to grow further and airlines have increased services to Doha," he said.

The Inter-Continental Doha opened in November 2000 and The Ritz-Carlton will open its doors in September. The Holiday Inn is also due to open soon. In the next five years, sources in the industry expect eight hotels to come up in Qatar.

"With the Inter-Continental, The Ritz-Carlton and Holiday Inn, you've doubled the rooms currently in the country. The corporate side of business is increasing and will continue to grow in the next few years," Lillie said, adding that several prestigious shopping malls had been opened including the City Center.

He said the tourism industry in Qatar was putting its hope on the recently formed Tourism Council in which Qatar Airways was an important element.

"It's a tremendous move," he said, observing that the airline's division, Qatar Airways Holidays, would be an important factor in the marketing of the country as a destination.

"In the last two to three months we've seen more activity in the promotion of Doha as a destination ... than I've seen in the last four years," he said.

Lillie also called for the development of public beaches for tourists staying in hotels not located on beachfronts such as his.

Lillie suggested that Doha could capitalise on the existing Gulf tourism spots and organise holiday packages for visitors who could be persuaded to carry on from Bahrain, Muscat or Dubai with a Qatar stopover.

He said cruise liner tourism, which had already made remarkable progress in Dubai, had potential in Qatar, but stressed the issue of visa regulations should first be sorted out.

The Ramada has witnessed a surge in business over the past six years, with growth seen year-on-year even when oil prices dropped.

The 328-room hotel has had fair occupancy levels this summer with the July figure at 58 per cent and the August level (until the middle of the month) at 64 per cent. During the whole of last year, occupancy was estimated at 76 per cent with the figure sailing in the 90s during the winter.

Promotions such as a discount of 50 per cent for weekend rates have helped bring guests to Ramada. Also contributing are its central location - five minutes from downtown Doha, 10 minutes from the airport and walking distance from the shopping centre and Leisure Park - and facilities within the hotel. The hotel operates a Jaguar limousine service.

In the last four years, it has refurbished all its bedrooms. The health club has been completely knocked down and rebuilt with added facilities. Several new food and beverage outlets including an international-cuisine restaurant have been opened.

A new cocktail bar has opened on the 11th floor, another newly refurbished bar has been operating on the premises along with an Irish-theme terrace.

Current dining and beverage facilities include Maxim, serving French and Continental cuisine; the tandoori restaurant Chingari; the restaurant Italian Job; the Hyde Park outlet offering international buffets and themed evenings; the Palm Garden; a poolside restaurant and The Library, which is a cocktail lounge with a panoramic view of Doha.

Relaxation and recreation is provided at The Cabana Club with a large outdoor heated swimming pool and at several sports and health facilities. The hotel has included several new entertainment shows and is bringing the Viennese Boys Choir in October. Opening at the end of this year will be a Japanese restaurant.û