Qatar to diversify tourism pie

A small section of the Dining Hall at Athletes' Village

Talk to anyone in the tourism and hospitality business in Qatar and you’ll find them enormously frustrated by the fact that overseas ‘observers’ assume the country has been frantically developing its infrastructure for the 15th Doha Asian Games this December – and then faces a void with redundant facilities, a big hole in the budget, too many facilities and no visitors. Nothing could, in fact, be further from the truth.

The vast majority of construction around town – and indeed throughout the peninsula – is part of the country’s ongoing 2010 development plan, when everything is seen as coming together to present a developed and diversified economy, highly sophisticated infrastructure, and enough hotels, conference and exhibition facilities to allow expansion of both the MICE market and leisure tourism.
Until now, the unstoppable demand for Qatar to host major international conferences has meant, according to the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), that  leisure tourism has lurked on the back burner. From 2008 onwards, they say, the story will be very different -- that is when many of the 40 or so hotel, suite and serviced apartment developments will come online. And the New Doha International Airport, scheduled for completion by the end of 2008, will open in 2009 with an initial capacity of 12 million passengers a year, with ultimate capacity to handle 50 million a year by 2015.
Apart from eyeing the GCC leisure tourism market, Qatar has always stressed its intention to highlight sport, educational and medical tourism. It is already the sporting capital of the region, hosting world class and international competitions in tennis, cycling, table tennis, squash, powerboat racing, golf, sailing, fencing, and weightlifting, among others.
Qatar’s Aspire Academy of Sports Excellence will continue to develop as a major recruitment and training ground for future medal winners from Qatar, the Arab world and countries further afield. Aspire Zone, formerly known as Khalifa Sport City, will have both sporting and leisure facilities to attract tourists as well as a sports hotel and conference facility.
Educational tourism draws heavily on the development of the Qatar Foundation’s Education City with its world-class universities and medical college and a fully digital Speciality Teaching Hospital with an $8 billion endow-ment; and QF’s Qatar Science and Technology Park which will host global research facilities.
When it comes to other aspects of medical tourism, the legacy of the Asian Games becomes even more apparent. With just finishing touches and specialised equipment, the 330,000 square metre Athletes’ Village will become Hamad Medical City; with headquarters of the National Health Authority plus housing for 2,584 nurses and 216 staff families; recreation, leisure and retail facilities and a 50-room hotel for visitors.
Qatar Airways, national carrier and official airline for the Games has always promoted both the airline and the country in its advertising campaigns. Indeed, launching a new Games-related campaign in October, airline CEO, Akbar Al Baker, who is also chairman of the QTA said: “Qatar is firmly gripped in Games fever with just weeks to go before the biggest sporting event to be staged in the country. The sian Games is already attracting significant interest from around the world and, during December, the international spotlight will be firmly on Qatar for two weeks of colour, noise and sporting entertainment. Qatar Airways, as the national airline of Qatar, is proud and honoured to be deeply involved in this historic event and we are delighted to be showcasing the country, the airline and the Games to the world through our extremely catchy new TV commercial which was filmed entirely in Doha.”  Like other countries to host major sporting events – such as the Olympic Games and the World Cup football tournament, Qatar hopes that the exposure it gets globally during the Games will help ignite interest in future markets.
Apart from an influx of GCC nationals and residents, Qatar has traditionally attracted visitors from the German-speaking countries of Europe and, more recently, from the Far East. As the airline’s network expands, new markets open up and Qatar has been actively promoted as tourism destination in South Africa, Russia and the Far East. QTA is planning to open additional overseas bureaux, and is currently eyeing better opportunities in the North American market. 
by Gina Coleman