A destination once so reliant on its business travel allure, Qatar is opening its arms to new markets, and embracing its untapped potential. Emily Millett writes.
Small yet mighty, Qatar has been going from strength to strength as a tourism destination in recent years, bolstered by its strong reputation as a leading regional business travel hub, while simultaneously expanding its horizons into new markets.
Speaking to TTG about the traditional markets for Qatar’s tourism sector, general manager, Oryx Rotana, Ghassan Dalal said: “Construction, FMCG, finance and business travellers generally are the main market feeders for Qatar. Qatar has been moving forward at a fast pace to become a key regional hub for big corporate companies.”
According to Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), the destination welcomed 944,689 visitors in the first half of 2018, and although this figure represents a decline in comparison to 2017, there is evidence that arrivals have been increasing month-by-month since the June 2017 blockade.
The QTA Tourism Performance Summary for H1 of 2018 also indicated that the destination is currently seeing considerable growth in both new incoming arrivals markets from outside the region as well as from new tourism sectors including the cruise industry and shopping travel. Festivals such as the month-long Shop Qatar was noted to have contributed to positive arrivals performances in Q1.
Additional positive factors include the recently introduced visa-free entry for Russian, Indian and Chinese citizens, which has already resulted in promising growth in visitors from these countries.
In a bid to further attract new markets, QTA and DER Touristik Deutschland joined hands last month, to further boost awareness of Qatar as a tourism destination and attract more German visitors, following a 22 per cent rise in German arrivals in 2017 compared to the previous year.
Commenting on the current key feeders for tourism in Qatar and their main reason for visiting the destination, sales manager, Qatar International Adventures, Anthony Zaki explained that the company has seen growth from the Russian, Chinese, Indian, European and American markets, who primarily travel for exhibitions in Doha, stopovers or business trips.
A specific area of considerable growth for the Gulf nation has come from the cruise industry, with Doha Port having hosted 15 ships in the first four months of the year, carrying approximately 47,162 passengers and crew (up 42.8 per cent from H1 of 2017).
Further cementing Qatar’s rapidly increasing popularity as a port of call for cruise travel, Dalal said: “One of the things that has influenced the travel and tourism sector in Qatar is the new agreements with cruise liners. Visitors in Doha will definitely increase and eventually, this will result in establishing Doha as a port of arrival and departure for them.”
According to Dalal, the upcoming FIFA 2022 is also still wielding significant influence over the growth and development of Qatar’s tourism industry: “With FIFA 2022 taking place in Qatar, we expect an increase in sports-related events across the country which will benefit the hospitality industry greatly.
“At Oryx Rotana we have a vast experience with managing sports groups, especially football related, which will enable us to deliver the expected service levels that match Qatar’s vision as a luxury hospitality destination,” he added.
Responding to the rise in demand for unique F&B offerings and the influence this sector is having on the overall travel industry in Qatar, Oryx Rotana has created a series of new room and dining packages for both Qataris and Qatar residents, including the Brunch Escape which offers a stay at the hotel, a massage at the spa as well as F&B experiences.
“We also have a line-up of exciting F&B activities for Michelin Week, Vin’s Day, Carnival Brunch Series, festive season activities and so much more. Q4 at Oryx Rotana is something that everyone will really look forward to,” added Dalal.
And while the upcoming sporting event does look set to catalyse an influx in sports tourism to Qatar, the event is also having a positive effect on the region’s hotel development chain, with the continued arrivals of new brands launching in the country and new properties adding to the growing portfolio.
“Qatar is set to host two of the world’s largest sporting events: the FIFA World Cup 2022 – in which the country is expecting to host more than one million international visitors for the World Cup itself – and the World Athletic Championship in 2019. This is the right time for us to open hotels to welcome the organisers, sponsors and consultants who will be making Doha their home for the next few years,” commented chairman, Al Majed Group, Ahmed Mahdi Al Majed.
International chains, as well as home-grown hotel groups, are either developing or setting their sights on Qatar, with Dusit Thani, Minor Hotels, Four Seasons and Retaj all adding their names to the destination’s hotel portfolio.
Cementing the events role for Qatar, Zaki explained that while traditional markets will always be a defining factor, with the international awareness surrounding FIFA 2022, more and more travellers from all over the world will want to come and see this unique Gulf country.
As Qatar continues to appeal to the business and corporate travel sector, which has always been its mainstay, the destination is also tapping into the cruising sector and the upcoming FIFA 2022 event as new market segments with considerable influence on positive growth.