Interview: Hamad Abdulla Al Mulla
Given the level of competition, how can Qatar compete with established regional destinations?
HAMAD ABDULLA AL MULLA: Demand is relevant to each market’s unique positioning and its attractions. Qatar has positioned itself as a niche destination. In the World Travel Awards 2012 Doha was recognised as the World’s Leading Business Travel Destination, and has been nominated in the category World’s Leading Sports Tourism Destination. We believe this is relevant for the current positioning of the industry in Qatar among other Arab countries. However, efforts are being deployed for enlarging the niche appeal of Qatar’s touristic offerings. Qatar Foundation, Katara Cultural Village and Qatar Museum Authority are all actively working towards establishing Qatar as regional cultural centre. State-of-the-art medical facilities, such as Sidra Medical and Research Centre and Aspetar, provide niche services aimed to position the country as a top international medical destination.
As Qatar’s infrastructure continues to develop at a fast pace, the entertainment offering diversifies each year. From high-end shopping malls or traditional souks, museums and cultural centres, to parks and outdoor recreational facilities and an increasing portfolio of hotels, the country has something to offer everyone.
What are the challenges associated with developing tourism infrastructure in parallel with national infrastructure works for 2022?
AL MULLA: Qatar is one of the world’s fastest-growing countries, and the strong economic and demographic growth requires additional infrastructure. A robust hotel network is the backbone needed to support expansion at all levels. We anticipate a 30% rise in Qatar’s travel market over the next two years. The development of infrastructure will generate business opportunities for hotels, with occupancy rates expected to grow significantly in the build up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Hotel openings will contribute to maintaining competitive room rates among GCC markets while stimulating competition to maintain service standards.
How do you foresee the international expansion of the industry developing in the coming few years?
AL MULLA: Qatar National Vision 2030 leads the nation on the path of economic diversification, and hospitality is one of the drivers. As a government-owned organisation with goals aligned to national objectives, we have a two-tier expansion strategy: in Qatar, we are committed to investing in hospitality assets, and aiding the development of tourism infrastructure. Katara Hospitality was launched in 2012 as a platform for growth for Qatar’s tourism industry, with the goals of 30 hotels by 2016 and 30 more by 2030. The portfolio currently includes 26 properties and projects. Our European presence is strong, and 2014 will see the opening of several hotels. With properties in France, Switzerland and Italy, we expect to invest in the UK, Germany and enhance our presence in the Mediterranean. North America is a possibility and we want to expand in Asia, where we plan a major renovation of Raffles Singapore.
Which hotel segments are underdeveloped, and what efforts are under way to increase capacity?
AL MULLA: Katara Hospitality is the major hotel owner and operator in Qatar, with an operating inventory of over 2000 rooms. Projects currently under development will add 1500 rooms to our total supply, and we continue to explore other opportunities in the region. The hotel segment in Qatar showcases luxury and iconic hotels, upmarket or budget business hotels, serviced residences and new properties that target niche markets. Over the next few years, several hotels and resorts in the five- and four-star bracket are scheduled to open, adding 7000 rooms to the inventory. Local investors are developing hospitality assets and partnering with reputable global operators. We will continue to develop hospitality assets that are not only iconic for our portfolio, but emblematic for Qatar as well, such as the Katara Towers in the Marina District of Lusail City, expected to be complete at the end of 2017.
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