Business is booming in Qatar

Host to numerous international conferences, soccer’s 2011 Asian Cup Finals and a bid country to host the 2016 Olympics, Qatar is placing great emphasis on its MICE, sport, education and leisure tourism. GINA COLEMAN reports
An artist’s impression of the upper lounges at the New Doha International Airport

According to Ahmed A Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Qatar Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (QTEA), the country will have 26,000 hotel rooms and tourist apartments available by 2012.

That is a marked increase from the 7,500 already available, even bearing in mind a further 6,000 rooms are due for completion before the end of 2008.
Contributing to those numbers, W Hotels’ W Doha is scheduled to open on June 1, 2008. A number of major chains are opening new properties in Qatar within the next couple of years, with construction upon several nearing completion.
Addressing a January conference in Doha, Al Nuaimi reiterated that Qatar’s tourism master plan, implemented in 2004, would attract investment of at least $15bn until 2012.
Boosting the MICE infrastructure, QTEA opened its new Doha Exhibitions Centre in February, the first event held there being the QTEA organised Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition, an annual event.
A purpose built venue with 15,000 square metres of exhibition space combined with a full service business centre, meeting rooms, VIP rooms, a bank, prayer areas and a coffee shop, Nuami says of the exhibitions centre, “This new venue now brings the exhibitions sector in Qatar to new international levels of standards and quality.”
It is an important sector for Qatar, he added, “as it brings professional visitors to all the stakeholders involved, from hotels to travel agencies, restaurants, commercial businesses, museums, leisure and entertainment facilities.”
The QTEA, which is in the middle of a major rebranding and reorganisation exercise, is also working on the new Qatar Convention Centre, scheduled to open in 2010. Located in the heart of the city, it will have over 55,000 square metres of conference and exhibition space.
“It is our aim to further promote Qatar as a high quality destination for business, meetings, culture, leisure sport and education and to further regulate the travel and hospitality sectors in Qatar to meet with the highest international standards,” the chairman told the local press.
Another boost to tourism will come with the soft opening around March of the spectacular IM Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art. The official opening has been scheduled for November 22. With a collection that includes some of the world’s most spectacular, valuable and significant pieces, it is sure to attract researchers, students, art lovers and niche tourism groups.
The QTEA has responsibility for the inspection of Qatar’s hotels and tourism infrastructure, and has implemented new star ranking system which requires establishments to reach – and retain certain specified standards for each grade with regard both to the infrastructure and the level of service.

Airport Development
Meanwhile, work is progressing on the New Doha International Airport (NDIA), which Abdulaziz Mohamed Al Noaimi, chairman of the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and also of the NDIA Steering Committee, says will open in 2010. Qatar Airways has said it will move its operations to the new airport in 2009.
More than 50 per cent of NDIA is being built on reclaimed land and by February, all reclamation work had been completed.
Originally budgeted at $5 billion, the costs of NDIA have risen substantially and are now likely to be more in the region of $9 billion according to Abdulaziz Mohamed Al Noaimi. [Some sources have suggested it could be as high as $11 billion]. Initially, NDIA will have the capacity to handle 24 million passengers a year, with ‘people movers’ ensuring the target transfer time of 30 minutes can be adhered to.
“Some time between 2020 and 2030, the NDIA will cater to 50 million passengers and have more than 80 airport gates,” he said.
The NDIA will have separate Emiri and VIP terminals, cargo, maintenance, engineering and catering wings as well as two hangars, for light and heavy maintenance and parking for some 4,000 cars.
The terminal building itself will be split into two levels with the upper level for departures and the lower for arrivals. “The new airport will have more than 30,000 sq m of space for food, beverage and retail outlets; there will also be more than 45,000 sq m of lounge space and two hotels,” said Al Noaimi, who added that the two runways at NDIA, 4,850 metres and 4,250 metres in length, are set more than two kilometres apart, thus permitting simultaneous takeoffs and landings.
 “The runways will be able to be operational even in the most extreme conditions and will be able to handle the take off of a fully loaded Airbus A380,” he said. 
This February, the existing Doha International Airport picked up the award for Best Airport and Airline Partnership at the MENA Airport Awards ceremony.The award recognised the airport’s achievements in working effectively with regional and global airlines.
Al Baker said the award clearly demonstrated that airlines and airports needed to work together to maximise business opportunities for each other for the benefit of travellers, adding that strong strategic partnerships between airport operators and airline users were vital for long term planning and efficient delivery of service levels to the ultimate user - the consumer.
Cooperation, he explained, meant working towards a unified approach, stressing neither airlines nor airports could survive without each other. He said the key to economic growth was building a strong airport and airline infrastructure to facilitate inward and outward trade and investment and give the travelling public greater choice.
The awards are designed to recognise the key players in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) aviation industry for their proactive approach to aviation development. This year, the awards focused on the region's fastest growing and most influential airports. The six airports nominated for the awards were: Doha, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Muscat and Bahrain.
Doha International Airport, which currently handles more than 12 million passengers a year, has undergone a dramatic change over the past three years, virtually doubling in size to cope with the huge demand for air travel to and from Qatar. In 2007, the airport received the ‘Best Passenger Handling Airport of the Year’ award at the Aviation Business Awards, held in Dubai.
In 2007, the airline’s network saw rapid expansion. This year, it is to focus on increasing frequencies to select destinations according to Al Baker, although both Houston and Guangzhou are confirmed new destinations for 2008. In early February, a fourth daily non-stop flight from Doha to London Heathrow was added to the schedule.
Qatar Airways currently operates a modern fleet of 60 Airbus and Boeing aircraft. It will have a fleet of 110 aircraft by 2013 – almost double the existing size. The airline has ordered 80 Airbus A350s, and 32 Boeing 777s, with deliveries of the latter having started in November 2007.  As a launch customer, it has ordered five Airbus A380s and 30 Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliners’ are on order (with a further 30 on option). Both the A380 and the 787 have been subjected to production delays. However, the airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker said  early in 2008  that he expected Boeing to have ‘caught up’ with production before the first 787s are due for delivery to Qatar Airways in 2010 (as NDIA opens). The Airbus A350s on order are due for delivery from 2013.
With the addition of new long-haul aircraft to its fleet, Qatar Airways is likely to add both Australia and South America to its schedule. The airline has six Boeing 777-200LR aircraft on order which could service the long haul routes non-stop.
Denying media rumours, Akbar Al Baker said Qatar Airways has ‘no interest’ in acquiring a stake in SriLankan Airlines, but is committed to looking at its long-term strategies.
Qatar Airways, he said, is providing stiff competition for European airlines in terms of service. 
“We are ready to stand up and compete. They talk about open skies then restrict us,” he said during a panel discussion on open skies at the 2008 ‘Airport Expansion Mideast Congress’, adding: “Quite frankly, I don't think our region is ready for open skies.”  He said open skies required a unified approach by countries across the region which, he stressed, would benefit the entire Middle East, and help meet the demands of huge air traffic forecasts within the region and, to and from the region.
More freedom for airlines to fly routes with no restrictions would lead to greater and, more importantly, healthier competition, he said. He also expressed his regret that negotiations for Qatar Airways to establish Abu Dhabi as its second hub had not been successful. Al Baker said that while Qatar Airways welcomed other airlines operating flights to Doha, the reciprocity was not always there.
 “I am very pro open sky but I want to have open skies in the real sense. It boils down,” he said, “to the rights for onward flights. Even in the Middle East there are problems for regional airlines.”
“The majority of carriers in the Middle East will not allow free access to their markets. A number of airlines are existing on state handouts,” he continued, and “There is a fear factor and vested interests are at work.”
He reaffirmed that the Qatari government intends to privatise Qatar Airways in the future. “It will happen once we have made all our investments.”