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Qatar beefs up tourism portfolio
November 2016 1489

Qatar's new destination brand celebrates its first launch anniversary this month and has boosted Qatar’s tourism profile, bringing interesting numbers in its wake. The World Economic Forum has identified Qatar as the world’s second safest country in its latest biennial Travel and Tourism Report. Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) has expanded reach into international markets by establishing new representative offices in the US and Turkey this year and plans to expand to – China and India – two important markets.

TTN spoke to Rashed Al Qurese, QTA’s executive director marketing and promotions, for more insight.

What does Qatar’s winter calendar look like?

In November, Katara is hosting several cultural events, including the International Kite Festival, Traditional Dhow Festival and Ajyal Youth Film Festival then, on December 18, the whole country celebrates Qatar National Day. Also of interest on the cultural side is Al Galayel, a traditional hunting and falconry competition, held in the desert every February.

The Qatar Shopping Festival (working title) is a new innovative activity that Qatar will stage for the month of January commencing on the January 7. Preparation and final activations are currently under consideration and updates will be forthcoming in the coming weeks. However, there will be a myriad of offers. So, we suggest visitors bring empty suitcases.

In regard to sport, the 2016 UCI Road World Championships have just concluded in Doha. This event – from October 9 to 16 – was not only a great success from the sporting point of view, but also from a tourism perspective. Around 1,000 cyclists from 75 countries took part, along with some 5,700 participants from national federations, delegations, technicians and journalists, as well as an estimated 30,000 fans. The worldwide media audience, which reached into the millions, also ensured great exposure for Qatar worldwide.

The main sports season continues in January with two major events, the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters European PGA golf tournament and the Qatar ExxonMobil Tennis Open, part of the ATP circuit. These are followed in February by the Qatar International Rally, Tour of Qatar cycling and the WTA Qatar Total Tennis Open.

We should also remember that many of our major exhibitions and trade shows have an important tourism element by attracting significant numbers of visitors from the region and internationally. The business events season gets under way in February with the Qatar Motor Show and Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition.

Congratulations on hitting the two-million visitor mark. What are the tourism industry’s aims and projections for 2017?

Looking ahead, we tend to plan on a longer term basis than a single year, so in 2017 we will basically continue to pursue the plans laid out in our Qatar National Tourism Strategy 2030 (QNTSS) launched in 2014 and its corresponding five-years strategic plan.

Additionally, our focus for 2017 will be strongly focused on targeting Stop Over traffic to Qatar and this is due to the new transit visa adjustment for passengers travelling on Qatar Airways transiting through Qatar. The new transit visa permits passengers carrying an onward boarding pass to between 5 to 96 hours free entry visa. With the extensive and fast developing Qatar Airways network development (currently covering over 150 destination) Qatar is so easily positioned for that additional experience en route or on return from a long-haul destination.

The main ongoing trends are expected to be the continuing diversification of our visitor profile and source markets. Effectively this means that Qatar’s traditional strengths in the business travel and GCC markets will level out, thanks to growth in other areas.

However, QTA will actively continue to market Qatar as a top international business events destination and within the GCC. But a major focus of our efforts is being channelled to promoting leisure tourism and to broadening the international spread of source markets, and this will continue in line with the QTA’s growing international office network and increased promotional activity in key international markets.

In overall numbers, the QNTSS sets a target of more than 7 million visitors by 2030. This will require a substantial investment in the tourism infrastructure including hotel construction, as well as other major projects such as the construction of the Doha Metro system and large-scale developments required to host the 2022 World Cup.

On the marketing side, Qatar’s ambition tourism targets will naturally be reflected in the QTA’s promotional activities in terms of scale, intensity and marketing mix. A key priority remains to develop partnerships with international tour operators, major travel agents and influential media as well as setting marketing campaigns to drive consumers from consideration to visit to conversion. All indications point to the fact that we are having significant success in implementing the strategy and we fully expect this to gain momentum rapidly.

Can you share some interesting numbers with us, such as number of hotel rooms in the five-star category under development, number of hotel rooms to enter the market this year?

There are currently 94 hotels and 18 hotel apartment properties in operation, providing a combined total of 21,896 rooms. The largest share of these are in the five-and four-star categories, which is in keeping with Qatar’s positioning as a premium destination.

The hotel breakdown is 9,982 five-star hotel rooms, 7,421 four-star, 2,281 three-star and 254 two- and one-star. In the hotel apartment segment, properties are categorised as deluxe or standard and these account for 1,300 and 622 units respectively.

Looking ahead, substantial new hotel capacity is under development to meet the expected increase in visitor demand. Room supply is expected to more than double, with some 56 hotels and 13 hotel apartments set to open in the next five years. Future plans include diversification towards more affordable hotel options, such as the five planned three-and four-star properties at Hamad International Economic Zone.

This high-level of construction activity means that occupancy rates tend to fluctuate as new properties add to the supply, though experience shows that demand growth soon fills the available capacity. Currently, the average occupancy rate stands at 61 per cent for 2016 to date, but this figure should rise substantially as the autumn/winter peak season gets under way.


New transit visa

QATAR’S new transit visa structure will allow passengers travelling on Qatar Airways to spend a minimum transit time of five hours up to 96 hours (four days), without the requirement to apply ahead of time nor to purchase an entry visa.

This will make stopovers easier, especially to Qatar Airways’ global passengers, and will deliver additional value to the local economy.

The Qatar transit visa is free of charge and available on arrival to all nationalities on confirmation of onward journey and completion of passport control procedures.   

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