Qatar’s tourism chiefs expect traveller numbers to rise significantly over the next decade as the country lays the groundwork for its 2022 hosting of the Fifa World Cup.
2012, in particular, will prove pivotal in the execution of the country’s plans, with an estimated $14.5-billion New Doha International Airport set to open by the end of the year.
In total, more than $100 billion is being spent on the infrastructure over the next ten years, including the $6-billion Doha port project and a $25-billion metro and railway system. In addition to the construction of 12 new dismountable air-conditioned football stadiums, Qatar is building 77 new hotels and 42 hotel apartments ahead of the 2022 tournament, to meet a demand for 60,000 hotel rooms.
Overall, the World Cup is expected to contribute 10 per cent growth to the value of the region’s hospitality and tourism sectors, the Secretary General of Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, Hassan Al-Thawadi, said at an event in Doha earlier this year.
All of these projects – and indeed, the World Cup itself – are elements of the country’s larger National Vision 2030. By then, Qatar aims to be an advanced society capable of sustaining its development and providing a high standard of living for its people.
Al-Thawadi expects the World Cup to drive annual tourist arrivals up to 1.7 million in the medium-term, and further to 3.7 million by 2022 – up from 900,000 currently.
Hotel occupancy figures prove him right. Nearly 7,000 hotel rooms were added to the country’s existing inventory of 10,000 rooms in the third quarter of last year, but occupancy remained stable, edging 0.4 per cent higher from 2010, while average daily rates increased 0.7 per cent, benchmarking agency STR Global said.
Accordingly, tourism chiefs are working to ensure the country outpaces its regional neighbours. While the NDIA will be able to handle 24 million people a year when it opens, it will slowly be expanded to a capacity of 48 million in 2020. And another 5,000 new hotel rooms are expected to come on stream each year through 2022.
“Big names are coming into the market, including four-star brands and furnished apartments. Five hotels at the Pearl will start coming in the next three years: Four Seasons, Nikki Beach Hotel, one boutique hotel. Every brand in the world will be in Doha,” the chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority Ahmed Abdullah Al-Nuaimi, told news agency Reuters last year. Several new hotels are set to open in 2012, including the St Regis Doha, the Radisson Blu Doha and the City Centre Rotana Doha.
Qatar Airways, which operates a modern fleet of more than 100 aircraft to 112 key business and leisure destinations, will help drive tourists to the country. After the launch of scheduled daily flights to Tbilisi, Georgia via Baku, Azerbaijan on February 1, the carrier will launch flights to seven further destinations: Kigali, Rwanda; Zagreb, Croatia; Perth, Australia; Mombasa, Kenya; Zanzibar, Tanzania; Helsinki, Finland and Gassim in Saudi Arabia.
While the emirate has already emerged as the go-to place for sporting and leisure events such as the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, the Tour of Qatar cycling race and the annual Doha Food Festival, authorities aren’t tweaking their policies to bring in huge numbers of tourists.
Speaking to Reuters last year, Nuaimi said the country is still hoping to capture the high-end tourist market, even with 2022 looming on the horizon. “We don’t want people to come for a $50 room to lie on the beach all day and walk around with a backpack and shorts. These are not the type of people we’re targeting.
“For the last five or six years we’ve invested in high-end hotels and facilities, high-end convention centres and museums. But we’re not looking for it to be a revenue-generating industry,” he said. “We are different from the neighbouring countries. They focus on tourism as a source of income. If [the tourism market] crashes, it makes no difference for us.”
However, the country is keen to maintain a respect for traditional values. In December, restaurants and bars in the flagship Pearl development were told they could no longer serve alcohol to guests. Whether the ban is expanded to the rest of the country remains to be seen, but either way, its luxury approach to tourism will make Qatar irresistible to travellers in the coming years.
BY CLARK KELLY