Articles about Qatar
Qatar Tourism Authority does not take responsibility for statements made in these articles. Further, these articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Qatar Tourism Authority.
Travel and Tourism News Middle East
Volume: 22, No. 3 March 2004
The marketing of Qatar
Fred van Eijk, CEO of the Qatar Tourism Authority, talks to TTN about how the country is being promoted as a quality destination
The Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) is actively promoting the country as a quality destination for business and leisure travellers, also emphasising facilities for education and sports in the country.
Fred van Eijk, the CEO of QTA, explains: â€œWe are working to develop Qatar as a leading quality destination in terms of all those sectors, so we are capturing different elements; we are targetting visitors from overseas, but also people living and working in Qatar. We emphasise sports and education because they are important values in the country and play an important role in its development. We also believe it helps to differentiate us from other countries.â€?
The QTA, adds van Eijk, promotes the development of sports in the country as much as it can. â€œWe are, for example, supporting the International Sailing Regatta in Doha, and in February we also supported a team of young sailors â€“ boys and girls â€“ from one of the schools here when they competed in Bahrain,â€? he says.
â€œQatar is fortunate enough to host a range of major international sporting events; we also see that the countryâ€™s sports federations have become more professional in marketing the events. Where else in the world could you leave your office, drive for just ten minutes to a high-tech tennis stadium, and see the Number 1 in the world â€“ free of charge? The equestrian events generate huge interest; so do squash; world championship table tennis and power-boat racing; the Tour of Qatar cycle race; and the forthcoming motorcycle Grand Prix. The cycling and the Qatar Masters golf tournament each March are shown daily on international TV stations. Those are just a few examples.â€?
The QTAâ€™s role, he says, is to promote the country â€“ and the hotel, club and public facilities â€“ to residents and visitors alike. â€œMore nationals and residents now remain in Qatar over the summer, partly because we organise an annual summer festival, but also because there is just so much more to do here â€“ including sports. So why not spend at least part of your vacation in the country where you live?â€?
The country has also, over the past couple of years, been attracting thousands of overseas visitors to Qatar through the development of MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) markets. â€œQatar has a strong track record with regard to its hospitality and the nationâ€™s ability to organise these events,â€? says van Eijk. â€œWe can now market ourselves as a MICE destination on the basis of our experience. â€œ
With heavy demand from conference organisers, there are always likely to be several major events running simultaneously in the country. â€œWe established the Doha Convention Bureau in January,â€? says van Eijk, â€œand their first main priority was to get a grip on co-ordination.â€? A department within the QTA, it publishes a calendar of events for the year â€“ in English and Arabic â€“ on its website: www.experienceqatar.com and mails out hardcopies to interested parties. The Bureau takes feedback from all the ministries and government organisations, and from private organisations, so that it knows what is happening and where. â€œThe calendar is updated online as soon as we get new information, so itâ€™s a live document.â€? The calendar also helps local organisations and interest groups plan their activities alongside related conferences or exhibitions, â€œWe send the information to anyone who wants to know, and especially to everyone who gives us information. We donâ€™t book things â€“ or block things â€“ but weâ€™re here as a first point of contact,â€? says van Eijk.
The leisure market, he adds, focuses mainly on individuals and small groups. â€œUsually the more discerning traveller; principally, those with an interest in the culture and traditions of the country and the region.â€? In the past, that mainly meant retired or semi-retired professionals with a high disposable income. â€œBut now we see a greater emphasis on younger people who have a thirst to see the world and Qatar has wonderful facilities for young families.â€?
Only now, according to van Eijk, are people beginning to think of Qatar as a â€˜stand aloneâ€™ destination, rather than in conjunction with a second or third regional destination. â€œOver Christmas and New Year, we attracted a lot of families from Europe. We are expanding that market through our presence at major travel fairs around the world and through the Qatar tourism board offices overseas.â€? There are currently offices in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France and Russia. â€œWe are looking at other possible counties to open offices,â€? says the CEO, â€œbut, for the time being, we will be handling marketing in the Middle East region from Qatar. In considering new locations for tourism board offices, we look first at the Qatar Airways network; you canâ€™t develop a destination without transport. So our first priority is those potential markets served by Qatar Airways as our national carrier. We then look at other potential markets with direct flights or good connections. However, we obviously donâ€™t exclude markets simply because they are, at present, only served by other airlines!â€?
Qatar Airways has been used as a carrier of choice over the past year by travel groups from Indonesia and Malaysia, heading to Europe and North Africa. Sometimes, they have several hours in transit and Qatar Airways has delighted the groups by offering the opportunity of a transit visa and the chance to get out of Doha International Airport for breakfast at one of the hotels and a city tour. However, van Eijk stresses one very important point: â€œWe donâ€™t want just to promote Qatar as a stop-over destination, even though Qatar Airways has its hub in Doha. We think the country deserves more than that definition. Nevertheless, while we were at the travel fair in Italy this year we had very positive discussions with the tourism minister from the Maldives. Over 140,000 holidaymakers travel from Italy to Mahe each year, many of them passing through Doha; we would like to make Qatar an equal partner in the destination package for travellers such as those.â€?
(For more information, log on to Qatar Tourism Authority website at www.experienceqatar.com or the new Foreign Information Agency (FIA) site at www.qatarinfo.net.qa)
Tuesday, February 17, 2004: Financial Times
Qatar's boom brings four new hotels
The Gulf state of Qatar is experiencing a boom in hotel development. Hilton and Marriott are planning to open four properties between them in the capital, Doha.
Hilton plans to open a 320-room hotel on the Corniche in late 2005. All bedrooms will have sea views. A dedicated conference wing will incorporate recreational facilities, three restaurants and underground parking.
Marriott plans two hotels under its Renaissance and Courtyard brands. They will have 250 and 200 rooms respectively. It will also operate a 120-unit executive apartment complex aimed at guests staying for 30 days or longer. All three properties are scheduled to open in 2007 as part of the Doha City Centre mall development in the West Bay area of the city.
It was confirmed last month that Qatar would go ahead with constructing a new airport. Its first phase, to open in 2008, will be able to handle 12m passengers a year - nearly three times the number using the existing airport.
Meanwhile, Qatar Airways has announced the launch of new services to Istanbul in June, to Zurich in July and to Kabul in November.
Sunday, November 23, 2003: The Observer
Soul-searching among the sand dunes
Before she moved there, Yvonne Ridley was told that Qatar was the dullest place on earth. But she finds the desert state has plenty to offer visitors.
Qatar is, according to some travel guides, the dullest place on Earth. This view was reinforced by a colleague who was sent to cover the Iraq war from the tiny Gulf state where the US military had set up a Hollywood-style presentation centre for the world's media. When he heard I was moving there in July to work for al-Jazeera's new English website, he pulled my leg endlessly about dull Doha nights.
It has to be said that the little peninsula sticking out of Saudi Arabia's gut appeared to be fairly unremarkable as my flight came in to land. Qatar has none of the nightlife of Beirut, the culture of Syria, the rich history of Egypt or the duty-free bargains of Dubai, its close Gulf neighbour.
However, it does have a lot to offer keep-fit and spa fans who would like to be pampered, pedicured and cheaply spoiled in the many beauty salons and gyms around the capital. But, as the largely conservative Qataris take a tentative step towards attracting tourists, there is one unique selling point: it has the only desert in the world to meet the sea.
I decided to check it out for the first time last week, when al-Jazeera and I parted company. The desert seemed to be a good place to get your head together when faced with some enforced leisure time, so I decided to head north for some soul-searching. The desert is Qatar's hidden jewel, a detail which seems to have bypassed the tourist authority.
Most hotels in the capital do offer desert safaris (involving daredevil drivers hurling their vehicles over the dunes) and don't encourage tourists to wander off on their own. As a result, there are acres of virgin desert and sea to enjoy for those who prefer to go it alone. And there's nothing better than to take off 50 kilometres north of the capital Doha and head for the desert to leave behind all your troubles. However, be warned. Dune driving is very dangerous and unless you're skilled at driving in such a terrain, leave it to the experts and 4x4s.
The dunes are dramatic and the slopes ideal for sandboarding. Of an evening, I'm told, Qatari youngsters head out to the dunes to do this. Others race their 4x4s against each other.
I made friends with a Bedouin called Hamid, who offered to take me and some friends out into the desert. Our party stopped off at one beach so I could paddle in the sea. The water was crystal-clear, warm and inviting - however, I hadn't brought a costume with me and pulled back from a skinny dip.
Although the searing summer temperatures are now on the wane, it's still as hot as hell and with the sun beating down you need to be well protected. Hamid turned my kafiya (scarf) into a Bedouin headdress and it did the job perfectly.
As we drove along the beach, I saw another 4x4 with a lean-to and picnic table. 'British ahead!' scoffed one of my Arab companions. 'Nobody else in the world would come out to the desert for a picnic and spend all day here. They are crazy people.' As we drove past the Brits, they looked very happy in their isolation. Probably expats enjoying a day off.
The population of Qatar is made up of about 200,000 indigenous people plus 500,000 foreign workers from all corners of the globe. It is about to become the richest nation (per head of population) on Earth, with the average citizen worth $27,000 and rising.
The reason for the wealth is simple: gas. Qatar has one of the world's largest gasfields, a point not lost on the United States, which intends to have a large military presence there for at least the next 50 years. However, there is very little evidence of US soldiers in the capital, apart from occasional sightings of young men sporting Marine-style haircuts.
Tourists heading for Qatar this winter are unlikely to bump into any real Qataris, since those who need to work have managerial roles. Less than two generations ago, Qataris made their living by diving for pearls, which is reflected in the art and architecture around the capital. Statues of pearls in oyster shells abound and the shell motif appears on many buildings.
Resilient divers could remain underwater for a very long time and it was they who initially discovered freshwater rivers underneath the seabed. There is a reference to this strange phenomenon in the Koran, where it is referred to as one of Allah's miracles.
Which leads me to another little-known fact about Qatar - it bottles its own spring water from two wells in Shaflahiya,about an hour's drive north of Doha. Production of Rayyan water began in 1984 with some help and guidance from Evian.
Although there are no ancient mosques on the scale of some Middle East countries, there are some Persian burial sites in the north of the country. Islam - both Sunni and Shia - is the only religion practised in Qatar and visitors are expected to observe modest dress. Bikinis and shorts should be reserved only for hotel beaches and swimming pools.
Qatar's diverse population has also spawned an excellent array of restaurants offering Asian, European and Middle Eastern cuisine. I think I may have found the best Lebanese restaurant in the whole of the Middle East. My friends have begged me not to name it, on the grounds that it is difficult to get a seat there at the best of times. The food is so fresh and I can still smell the herbs from the taboulleh , a Lebanese salad.
However, being totally unselfish to you, dear reader, I can reveal its name - Layali on the Salwa Road in Doha. It also has the best sheeshas in Qatar. Sheeshas, or hookahs, are centuries old and regarded as part of the social scene in Doha for both men and women.
Longer-lasting than a cigarette, and more satisfying than a pipe, sheeshas are very popular among Doha's cafÃ© society. Although some veterans go for a tobacco called Zagloul, I and my companions prefer the fruity range of flavours on offer, including apple and grape. Mint is also a favourite, but the cappuccino sheeshas served at Layali are also memorable.
Just a word of warning to cigarette smokers who share the company of the hubble-bubble crowd - do not try and light your fag from the bowl of someone's hookah. It's a bit like drinking someone else's pint in a bar on Newcastle's Scotswood Road.
Shatir Abbas in the Al Sadd district offers wonderful Iranian food and for Syrian grills the Al Hamra in the centre of Doha is another must. Curry fans are really spoiled for choice, but the Star of India is exceptional. The other major plus is the price of eating out in Doha - it is so-ooo cheap. A good night out at Layali will barely set you back Â£20 a head.
Fitness fanatics, tennis lovers and golfers are spoilt for choice. Doha's five-star hotels offer deals to get you a round on the capital's world-class golf course. Although there are few public beaches, you can find scuba diving, windsurfing and all the usual watersports. There are also fishing trips available mainly for red snapper and hamour.
I recently took a flight to Bahrain, less than 40 minutes away, and on the return journey was aghast to see one passenger proudly carrying a falcon on his arm. Falconry is a Bedouin tradition and displays are available for tourists to watch this homegrown sport.
I have to say the thought of exerting myself in the heat - summer temperatures hit the 50C mark - does not appeal, but there are other ways of enjoying rest and relaxation.
The best, and most luxurious, spa is at the Ritz Carlton which also has a beauty salon. Shoppers can roam traditional souks and Western-style shopping malls and, like everything else in Doha, prices are competitive. Shopping is duty-free and electronic goods, in particular laptops and mobiles, almost equal the shopping mecca Dubai for bargain prices.
Nightlife is limited to a few discos in the hotels where alcohol is served. This is not Ibiza Uncut - far from it. Apart from hotels, alcohol is not available in restaurants or anywhere else unless you happen to be invited to an expat party at someone's private home. Alcohol is not illegal in Qatar, it's just hard to get hold of unless you have a liquor licence, which most expats can apply for, entitling them to around Â£300 worth of alcohol a month.
Culture-wise, there are two theatres in Qatar and opera companies pass by from time to time. This December, for example, the Lloyd Webber musical Cats is coming over for performances in the Ritz Carlon.
But for my money, if Qatar really wants to pull in the tourists, it has to utilise the desert more. As I sat and pondered my own future surrounded by the majestic dunes, I thought the desert would make a perfect backdrop for a grand opera: The Pearl Fishers, perhaps?
Best time to go: November to February when there are no sandstorms and it is cooler. Average temperatures in November are 25C, 20C in December and 18C in January and February.
Getting there: Qatar Airways (020 7896 3636) has 13 flights a week from Heathrow to Doha and four from Manchester. Return flights start from Â£390 including taxes.
Tour operators: If Only (0141 943 1888), Tropical Locations (020 7229 9199) and Dream Qatar (0845 061 6255). Sample package: A five-night stay at the Ritz Carlton hotel starts from Â£750 per person in January including B&B accommodation and transfers.
Further information: Qatar Tourism Board (020 7371 1571).