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straight talk

QaTar: noT a mass-TourisT

locaTion"

By Sindhu Nair

The world might still be reeling but not Qatar, where the room occupany rates in hotels are still encouraging. A preview of what is in store in the tourism sector.

Ahmed Al Nuaimi Chairman, Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA)

hen the country won the award for the Worlds Leading Emerging Business Destination at the 16th Annual World Travel Awards at the Grosvenor House in London on December 9, Doha had made a mark on the tourism industry as well. Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), Chairman, Ahmed Al Nuaimi has mapped out a careful plan to sell Qatar as a tourist spot but it is not numbers that he is looking at.

"In Qatar, we do not seek to be a location for mass tourism; rather we are focused on presenting our country as a world-class business destination, with high-quality services," he says. Qatar Today talks to Al Nuaimi to know more about the plans.

Tourisim is a big market but one that has not been capitalised in Qatar as yet. How do you plan to sell Qatar as a tourist spot?

Qatars strategic location has attracted visitors to the region for thousands of years. Our country has as much natural
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Qatar is also investing more in tourism sites, like the landmark $3 billion Museum of Islamic Art

beauty as it has cultural richness and this attracts tourists to our region. Qatar is spearheading a surge in interest in the Arabian Gulf. We see many visitors coming to Qatar looking for business opportunities, and extending their stay to enjoy the leisure and cultural activities that the country has to offer. QTA participates in travel exhibitions abroad that align with our strategy of promoting Qatar as a business destination with upscale leisure activities. We participate in key MICE travel exhibitions as well as luxury exhibitions. To further reach the international markets and to increase awareness of our country, QTA has undertaken an intense road show schedule to five major European cities. We will meet with tourism ministries as well as top travel organizers and MICE buyers to discuss opportunities. We will plan a similar road show to Asia in 2011.

Qatar is seen as the education and research hub in the region. How can this factor be used to attract tourists?

Education City consists of six leading American Universities that attract students from all over the Gulf and MENA regions. With leading research institutions and ample resources, our universities are not only home to Qatari and international students and faculty but are also visited by distinguished professors, researchers and collaborating institutions. The universities in Education City participate in many outreach programmes to students and corporations regionally
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which result in an increase in visitors to Qatar from the Doha Debates to executive education programmes to student competitions at both high school and university levels. Qatar recently launched and hosted the World Innovation Summit for Education which is a global, groundbreaking collaborative initiative established by Qatar Foundation, bringing international education experts and world leaders to our country, and which will also firmly place Qatar on the map as a leader in education initiatives. The Qatar Science and Technology Park is a world-class incubator for the research, development and commercialisation of new technologies that has attracted significant R&D investment from companies such as Shell, Qatar Petroleum, ExxonMobil, EADS, Total and GE. QSTP has been in the centre of many recent research and technology developments from Williams F1 establishing a technical centre to QSTP to being a hub for research activities on environmentally friendly fuels like GTL and developments in healthcare technology. QSTP brings research and business tourism together. Our education and research institutions attract prospective students as well as business partners driving tourism to our country.

providing all the luxuries of home. We have many 5- and 4-star hotels located directly downtown, accessible from the airport and major tourist centres and attractions. The combination of a unique cultural experience and a progressive atmosphere has been a staple to the success of tourism in Qatar, providing a sense of comfort to our guests. The global economic recession has not affected tourism-related activities in Qatar, and hotels are still doing a good business. With the opening of new hotels, the occupancy has been spread. Hotels have reported an increase in revenue this year, and we believe the situation to improve further in the coming year. About half a dozen hotels have opened in Qatar in 2009 offering 2,000 new rooms to visitors. To meet forecasted demand, hotel capacity will increase to over 29,000 luxury rooms and apartments by 2012.

Dubai has a shopping festival to capitialise on. Oman has a Cultural Festival. With travel and visa restrictions, how soon will Qatar be seen as a tourist hotspot?

We have hotels that are a beacon of hospitality but how well is the hotel industry performing? And do they bring in tourists?

Qatar is unique in that it offers a traditional Middle Eastern experience while

We are not comparing what we offer to visitors with what Dubai or Abu Dhabi or Oman offer we complement each other by bringing tourism to the region by emphasising the areas that we each do best. In Qatar, a simple 30-day visa covering both business and leisure travel is available to passport holders from 33 countries including the UK and Ireland, most of continental Europe, the USA and

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Canada, Australia and New Zealand and select Asian nations. The visas are issued without special conditions, and are conveniently issued upon arrival. There is also a joint Qatari-Omani tourist visa whereby visas issued to tourists in Qatar are valid in Oman and viceversa. This is especially convenient for our visitors arriving on cruise ships that travel around the GCC. A similar dual visa system is expected to be in place between Qatar and Bahrain. We are in discussions with our other GCC neighbours on similar arrangements. New visa procedures for visitors arriving by boat have been implemented this year, making the process easier for tourists stopping in Qatar on cruise ships.

Occupancy rates in Qatar did very well in 2008 compared to the rest of the region. Though, in line with the global trend, occupancy rates declined a bit this past year.

How is Qatar known around the world?

What, according to you, restricts the country from being a preferred destination? And how do we work around these constrictions?

Qatar may not be as well known to many people around the world as other destinations in the Gulf region. QTA acts as one of the main ambassadors for Qatar worldwide, and is promoting Qatar abroad through attendance at exhibitions and road shows as well as through traditional and non-traditional advertising. We may have started late to the game, but we are taking measured steps to ensure that it is a pillar in the diversifying economy. In five years, tourism will be a strong and active contributor to the countrys GDP. We have identified our audience and have been working to build tourism in those sectors: business, sport, education and research. By combining exhibitions and tourism under the unique control of QTA, it has enabled us to create a unique tourism strategy, offering business-oriented destination, combined with leisure activities.

exhibitions, conferences and events, and extending their stay to enjoy our unique hospitality and upscale leisure activities. We have invested domestically and internationally to encourage cultural, educational, sports and leisure tourism to complement the business tourism industry in our country. Aside from the tourism revenues from the MICE industry, Qatar is a prime destination in the region for sports tourism. Fast becoming one of the worlds leading places in sporting events, Qatar has invested $2.8 billion in infrastructure over the last several years to support athletic competition. In addition to be the hosting venue for many world sports championships already, Qatar will be the official host of the 2011 Asian Cup, and has recently announced its bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar is known for our tradition of independence and our progressive orientation. We are a small country that has not been on the global radar for very long in comparison to other tourist destinations. Fifteen years ago, Qatar was likely unknown to most of the worlds inhabitants. However, over the course of the past decade and a half, Qatar has gained a reputation as a robust nation, aspiring to be a voice of moderation in the region with the goal of presenting sophisticated culture both at home and abroad.

Is QTA only banking on MICE? How have the volumes compared with before the recession set in?

Tourism is a great tool for Qatars economy, as it is mainly a business-oriented tourism model, with visitors coming for

Occupancy rates in Qatar did very well in 2008 compared to the rest of the region. Though, in line with the global trend, occupancy rates declined a bit this past year. The investment in infrastructure, energy and sports has led to an increase in personnel coming to Qatar, as well as corporate and government officials coming from various countries. Additionally, Qatars tourism industry has seen a boost as the result of the rapid expansion of Qatar Airways. Doha has become a preferred transit point for passengers from Europe and Asia. Qatar is expecting a very promising year in 2010 as we continue to invest in the infrastructure of the country and the tourism sector.

How healthy are the occupancy rates?

We see Qatar being a multifaceted, high quality tourist destination. Our investment in our cultural, educational, sports and leisure activities to complement our MICE tourism model has diversified the tourism industry and the breadth of our visitor demographics. Over a five-year period, Qatar will be investing $17 billion into the tourism infrastructure in our country; building a new airport, port, expanding hotel capacity. Qatar will be opening the Qatar National Convention Center in 2011 and the Doha Convention Center and Tower in 2012, setting new benchmarks in global venue design and world-class facilities. Qatar is also investing more in tourism sites, like the landmark $3 billion Museum of Islamic Art, opened just last year, the long-term renovation of the widely appreciated Souq Waqif area, the Doha National Museum, which is currently undergoing a fresh refurbishment, and other projects like the Photography Museum, and the National Library. That is the unique Qatari appeal to culture and traditions: being proud of a rich past and interconnecting that heritage with modern creativity and innovation, and always planning for the future. QTA has also recently launched its new website www.qatartourism.gov.qa. It is a hub of information for visitors and residents alike n
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What are the new ventures that QTA is planning on? A brief preview of what the country will be (or should be) in 2020 according to your plans.

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