A gem in the GCC, Qatar is known for its tourism prowess and its ability to charm one and all with its unique sparkle. Tatiana Tsierkezou investigates the ways in which its industry is developing to boost numbers and stimulate curiosity this year.
The year 2017 has begun on a positive note for Qatar’s tourism industry, with the movers and shakers expressing confidence in what’s to come, while simultaneously anticipating major changes that are set to strengthen figures.
One extremely notable development that is set to drastically boost footfall and promote the destination as a tourist-friendly option is the recent introduction of a new visa transit scheme by Qatar Airways and Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), which has generated a new segment of travellers.
This newly adopted system now presents those travelling via Qatar the opportunity to enhance their already planned holidays with a stopover in Doha during their outbound journey, for up to four days.
Allowing them to uncover the country’s eclectic tourism portfolio, Discover Qatar, the inbound arm of Qatar Airways Holidays, has shed light on a tempting array of affordable products online, such as hotels, tours, airport transfers, car rentals and travel insurance. Tourists can make the most of half- and full-day desert safaris, city and cultural tours, traditional dhow cruises, shopping and culinary experiences during their stopover.
Speaking to TTG about the significance of this initiative was assistant director of sales, The St. Regis Doha, Deep Kumar: “The plan of a 96-hour transit visa will be a great boost for us and Qatar in general, as it would encourage most people travelling to the Middle East to take a weekend break or stopover in Doha.”
While the new visa transit system is anticipated to amplify numbers, other transport initiatives and developments are being undertaken to facilitate further growth.
Qatar’s national carrier introduced a total of 14 new destinations to its global network last year, including Adelaide and Sydney (Australia), Atlanta, Los Angeles and Boston (USA), Birmingham (UK), Helsinki (Finland), Marrakech (Morocco), Pisa (Italy), Ras Al Khaimah (UAE), Windhoek (Namibia), Yerevan (Armenia), Krabi (Thailand) and Mahe (Seychelles). Adding to this, the airline has already shed light on upcoming destinations, some of which include Nice (France) in July of this year and Las Vegas (USA) in January 2018.
Cluster general manager, Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl, Wissam Suleimann commented: “New flight plans from Qatar Airways have been encouraging visitors to Qatar on both a tourism as well as corporate basis. Qatar is marketing itself with new attractions and heritage sites, and is positioning itself as a new and ever-growing tourist destination.”
But moving away from air travel, CEO, Regency Travel & Tours, Tareq Abdullatif Taha explained that there have been major upgrades to the internal transport network.
“[A metro system] serves as a crucial lifeline for any major city. Doha Metro is being developed to boost connectivity and to ease commute for tourists and residents,” he noted.
Taha also explained that QTA has begun aggressively promoting cruise tourism, which is helping Qatar become a key port on global cruise itineraries and has brought forth, according to him, ‘stupendous results so far’.
Agreeing with this, Suleimann also shared with TTG that Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl has been witnessing an increase in ‘layovers’ from cruise liners, docking for short periods, giving their travellers a chance to explore the ever-growing city.
C APITALISING ON STRENGTHS
Tourism has been pin-pointed as a priority sector under Qatar National Vision 2030, and therefore, it comes as no surprise that the destination has been working to capitalise on the industry’s strengths.
One such strength is shopping, and, according to figures released by Qatar’s Tourism Satellite Account, shopping represented a bigger portion of tourism spending in 2014 than hotel bookings and F&B, contributing an impressive $1.6 billion to the country’s economy.
Taha said: “Qatar is fast emerging as a shopping destination, with new shopping malls being added every year. The latest addition is the Mall of Qatar, which is home to more than 500 stores, international and local brands, and dining and entertainment options.”
He added that the largest and most anticipated mall, Doha Festival City, is due to open this month.
But another of the country’s strengths, is its ability to host crowd-pleasing events and festivals.
QTA last year communicated that a new and exciting festival focusing on retail will be joining Qatar’s extensive calendar of events next year. It will aim to further promote Qatar as a preferred family and leisure holiday destination in the GCC.
A number of country-wide events take place each year, including Qatar International Food Festival and the extremely popular Qatar Summer Festival. But one game-changing event is expected to put Qatar on the global map: the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Explaining the powerful impact that this news has had on the industry since its announcement, was general manager, Saraya Corniche Hotel, Khalid Ragab: “The corporate segment is increasing in Qatar due to the several projects that are on-going for the preparation of FIFA 2022. New infrastructure and construction projects are the key points of attracting business to the country. We are projecting that Qatar’s tourism allure will definitely increase by 2021 because of the FIFA World Cup.”
Meanwhile, Taha of Regency Travel & Tours declared: “Hotel rooms are being added and new world-class stadiums are being constructed for the expected big arrival of FIFA 2022, to enable a warm and hospitable welcome to our guests.”
Sharing his positive outlook, director of sales and marketing, Shangri-La Hotel, Doha, Figen Caglar said: “Qatar’s tourism sector has witnessed substantial growth with commitments to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and National Vision 2030.
“Along with more diversification in economy, the contribution of travel and tourism will continue to increase and be well-reflected in the hotel industry,” he concluded on the subject.
As times change and years come to a close, Qatar’s tourism movers and shakers witness certain patterns and trends that are shaping the industry, with some things changing and some things staying the same.
The country has always been the go-to destination for Saudi travellers looking for adventure, cultural experiences and relaxation, not too far from home.
Ragab of Saraya Corniche Hotel commented on this: “The Saudi market is the main feeder market of Qatar due to the country’s prominent tourist spots such as Souq Waqif, the Museum of Islamic Art, the Doha Corniche and several historical places that attract interest. Qatar tourism is increasing when there are Saudi holidaymakers, and most of the visitors are families.”
Meanwhile, Caglar of Shangri-La Hotel, Doha opined to TTG that although Qatar is a predominantly corporate business driven market, the country – and the hotel – has been witnessing a growing trend in travellers visiting Qatar to take in its growing leisure offering.
“Global travellers like to explore new places and do something different than the norm. We can see that with Qatar Airways’ stopover packages; more and more travellers are stopping over in Doha to explore the city for its rich cultural offerings.”
Echoing this sentiment, Taha said: “Business travel constitutes the majority of travellers into Qatar, but that is fast changing. Qatar has a lot to offer in terms of culture and heritage, architecture, museums and plenty of eating joints to satisfy various gastronomical needs by serving all international cuisines, including local Qatari cuisine. There are also several landmarks of Doha that are on must-see/do list for all travellers. Experience-based travel is now preferred over traditional sightseeing based travel, thanks to the exposure on social media and increased Internet penetration in Qatar,” he concluded.
With the future of its travel and tourism industry shining bright like a diamond, Qatar can only but look forward to more prosperity, more popularity and more exposure on a global scale.