Qatar: Taking care of business tourism

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Qatar is having marked success in broadening the scope of its tourism industry, attracting an increasing number of business visitors along with a rising tide of tourists coming to enjoy the country’s long list of scheduled events.

Tourism’s contribution to the economy is set to expand rapidly in the coming decade, with the sector set to double over the next 10 years, according to a recent report by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). In its Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2012 study, released in March, the WTTC said the contribution of the industry to the economy would rise from $1.15bn in 2011, representing 0.6% of GDP, to $2.25bn in constant 2011 prices by 2022.

While the contribution to GDP is forecast to rise by an average of 5.7% per year between now and 2022, 2012 will be a true leap year in terms of Qatari tourism, with the sector expected to post a 13% increase – one of the highest rates of growth in the world and more than four times the regional average.

While the sector’s direct contribution to the economy is significant, it pales when compared to travel and tourism’s overall impact. As estimated by the WTTC, the industry’s total contribution, including indirect and induced impact, came in at $5.5bn in 2011, the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP. Total contribution is expected to reach $11.25bn by 2022, the year Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup.

If 2011 is anything to go by, the tourism industry will easily live up to the WTTC’s expectations. Last year, there was a 12% jump in international arrivals, and it was the number of visitors from other GCC member states that saw the largest increase, with 845,000 tourists arriving from neighbouring countries in 2011, up by almost 50% on the preceding year.

While at least some of this increase can be attributed to one-off events, including the Asian Football Cup, which Qatar hosted in early 2011, the nation is rolling out a long line of sporting, cultural and business events that should keep the airport turnstiles clicking over.

To keep pace with the influx of new arrivals, there has been a sharp rise in the number of hotels, particularly those in the four- and five-star bracket. In 2011, eight hotels opened their doors, taking total room numbers to 11,300, more than 18% up on 2010.

This flow of new accommodation is set to continue in the lead up to the World Cup, with an additional 3500 rooms due to be added this year, according to the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), the state agency charged with promoting and developing the industry.

Qatar has set a target of attracting 1.8m or more foreign visitors by 2014, a figure that is almost twice the number that passed through Customs control in 2009. Around 75% of Qatar’s inbound visitors travel to the country on business, according to QTA data. This figure should be sustained over the coming years, even with the increase in general tourism, as Qatar has stepped up efforts to accommodate business travellers, with the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) segment recognised as key to continued growth.

To spur further growth of this segment, Qatar has invested heavily in facilities needed to accommodate MICE activities. In December 2011, the state opened the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC), a $1.2m multipurpose complex of exhibition halls, conference venues, function areas and hospitality spaces. Many of the new hotels also include conference and business facilities too.

As a result, the MICE segment is thriving, and Qatar has hosted the World Petroleum Congress in December 2011, as well as another 130 events throughout the year. This trend looks set to continue in 2012, with several global events ready to take the stage in Doha, including the UN Climate Change Conference.

Stiff competition remains from regional rivals, however. Qatar’s MICE segment is operating in an already crowded market, with Dubai, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Oman all investing in business-focused tourism facilities. Qatar does have the advantage of possessing one of the world’s largest convention and exhibition centres in the QNCC, plus a growing economy, which appeals to both exporters and exhibitors.

But with all signs pointing to continued government support of the long list of events the country hosts every year, there is little sign that growth will slow any time soon, leaving the sector’s expansion all but assured.

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