Qatar’s tourism industry has blossomed into something quite special, even if some obstacles have been encountered along the way. By Tatiana Tsierkezou.
Last year was a tumultuous year for Qatar, which brought forth a number of challenges. The country has been tirelessly working to recover from the after-effects of a diplomatic crisis.
According to figures released by the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), the destination welcomed 1,328,195 visitors during the first three quarters of 2018, representing a 26 per cent decrease on the corresponding period in 2017. Although this figure is a somewhat daunting decrease, on a brighter note, QTA reported that monthly arrivals from June 2018 onwards were relatively higher than they were the previous year, highlighting a post-blockade recovery.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Overall, things are really looking up for Qatar, and the country is now turning its head to thriving new markets that hold serious potential. During the first nine months of 2018, Qatar witnessed an increase in arrivals from India, China, Iran, Russia and Germany, a result of the Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy’s dedication to diversifying source markets. QTA is also forging ahead with new partnerships, joining hands with leading tour operators in key markets. Last year, the Authority allied with Germany’s Dertour, Italy’s Alpitour, and Apollo, which represents the Nordic countries.
Highlighting its ceaseless dedication to increasing tourist numbers, Qatar celebrated the launch of its 2018/2019 cruise season, which runs until May this year. This season is anticipated to bring over 140,000 visitors to Doha Port aboard 40+ ships.
Sharing his opinion of Qatar’s tourism performance was general manager, Oryx Rotana, Doha, Ghassan Dalal: “The country changes exponentially every year. Luxury hotels, spas, world class restaurants, malls and architecturally unusual buildings are showing up constantly. The decision to diversify visitor source markets by expanding visa facilitation policies and entering new key source markets, such as in India, China and Russia, brought forth a great increase in arrival volumes in 2018. I am certain that if Qatar continues the same tactic, this country will, without a doubt, soar high in tourism in the coming years.”
Due to the positivity pulsating throughout the country, hospitality entities are working hard to further stimulate business. In Oryx Rotana, Doha’s case, guests are being wooed with tempting packages and offers.
“This year we have a line-up of exciting yet reasonable offers at our F&B outlets. We will be revamping our Rotana Escape room packages, and of course the wellness of our guests is very important to us too. Having said that, Bodylines Fitness & Wellness Club has a list of activities promoting health and well-being,” Dalal further noted.
Meanwhile, also sharing his positive sentiments regarding the industry was general manager, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha, Kendigelen Erden, who told TTG: “Qatar is now being recognised as a tourist destination and has evolved dramatically over the past several years. If we simply take the last three months as an example, we witnessed remarkable growth in the number of leisure guests visiting Doha from all over the world.”
Erden explained that during the festive season, the luxury property recorded the highest occupancy rates witnessed in the last 17 years.
“Our hotel reached almost 100 per cent occupancy with international travellers, which clearly demonstrates that Doha is fast becoming the new tourism hotspot,” he enthused.
In light of these faith-restoring results, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha has been working day in and day out to enhance its offering. The property commenced an ambitious project two years ago to redefine the luxury experience. The first phase concluded last year and entailed a complete facelift of all suites and rooms, as well as the spa and lounge club.
Erden enthused on the fruits of the hotel’s labour: “We witnessed a tremendous increase in room bookings after the first phase of our reimagination efforts.”
The Ritz-Carlton, Doha is currently in the midst of the second phase of its project, which will elevate its F&B portfolio further.
“We will be offering distinctive culinary experiences for guests to enjoy. We just recently opened STK Doha, a highly modern and vibrant dinner party steakhouse located on the 23rd floor of the hotel. This will be followed by the opening of Sel & Miel, a French brasserie that focuses on traditional, simple French cuisine, and of course, the long-awaited B-Lounge Doha by Buddha Bar, located by the marina of the hotel.”
Erden explained that by the close of the year, the hotel will have concluded the third phase of its reimagination project, which entails the introduction of a brand-new all-day dining restaurant, Mum & Son’s, and a new outdoor pool area.
Moving on, a new hospitality player will be gracing Qatar this year. Scheduled to open its doors in April is the three-star Swiss-Belinn Doha (more details on page 12).
Speaking to TTG about the exciting development was senior vice president, operations and development – Middle East, Africa and India, Swiss-Belhotel International, Laurent Voivenel: “We believe the Swiss- Belinn brand is a perfect fit to match the growing demand for quality midscale and corporate accommodation in Doha, and are confident that Swiss-Belinn Doha will be a great success.”
WHAT LIES AHEAD?
And while the hospitality sector is flourishing, other exciting and possibly game-changing developments are coming to fruition. One such development is the Al Enna Project, which launched last September. Al Enna, which directly translates into ‘camping ground’, will work to enhance Qatar’s desert and camping experience for locals and visitors alike. It entails the expansion and enhancement of Sealine Beach in an eco-sensitive manner, and upon completion, it will be equipped to accommodate some 15,000 visitors.
Another exciting project that is swiftly moving forward is Katara Hospitality’s Qetaifan Island North, part of Lusail city, which will be Qatar’s newest entertainment attraction, perfect for visitors of all ages. The island spans 1.3 million square metres and the island’s projects will occupy approximately 830,000m2. It will boast an impressive waterpark, promenades, private beaches, beautiful neighbourhoods and high-end hotels.
Last month, Qetaifan Projects Company, a subsidiary of Katara Hospitality, inked a Memorandum of Understanding with Rixos Hotels, which will manage and operate the attraction’s hotels, the souq, the waterpark and the beach club.
Commenting at the signing was Katara Hospitality’s chairman, Sheikh Nawaf Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al-Thani: “This agreement marks the Rixos Hotels brand’s first property in Qatar. As we strengthen our vision to change the world of hospitality through investment and innovation to leave an outstanding legacy for future generations, in line with the Qatar National Vision 2030, we see this as testament to Qatar’s robust tourism strategy and its reputation as a key player of the country’s hospitality industry, aiming to create a safe and sustainable investment that will carry the name of the State of Qatar.”
He continued: “We are confident that the ethos of the Rixos Hotels brand is a strategic fit for our development project of Qetaifan Island North, as it is important that we have an operator that understands and respects this unique destination, ensuring it occupies its rightful position in the local and global market-places.”
Also commenting on the occasion was founder and chairman, Rixos Hotels, Fettah Tamince: “We are proud to offer our services with our own brand now in Qatar, and we appreciate very much to be part of a mission for providing added value to the tourism of this wonderful country. I would like to stress that we will be driven by the same mission in Qatar through this partnership with Qetaifan Projects. We value the confidence and trust our partners have in our group and take this opportunity to expand our hospitality portfolio in this region.”
These upcoming developments are paving the way to an enhanced hospitality sector. Qatar welcomed a total of eight new hotels last year, which contributed an additional 1,235 keys to the destination’s hotel portfolio. This number will only increase as time passes, especially in the run up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup – a significant win for Qatar, which will elevate its position on the global tourism map.