By 2010 Qatar aims to increase the number of tourists who visit the emirate to 1.5m visitors per year, while at the same time lengthening the average stay from 1.5 to four days. In 2006, the number of tourists visiting Qatar reached 900,000, a large increase on 2004, when the figure stood at 500,000.
Qatar's modest tourism trade is set for a major boost as the small Gulf state aims to become a hub for tourism in the region. Investing $5.5bn into the New Doha International Airport (NDIA) is expected to contribute heavily towards this aim. The final phase of construction will be finished by 2015, when it will be able to handle 50m passengers, 320,000 planes and 2m tonnes of cargo a year.
Qatar Airways recently unveiled plans for expanding its international programme to include flights to New York and Washington, DC this summer. These two new routes bring its international network to beyond 75 destinations worldwide, with the airline announcing plans to include Latin America next year.
Qatar is presently viewed mostly as a destination for business travellers on short trips. Simon Casson, general manager of the Four Seasons Doha, told OBG that 90% of the hotel's business is derived from the corporate segment. He said that geographically speaking, 50% of the customers come from the Gulf Cooperation Council region and the other 50% is split between North America, Europe and Asia.
In order to increase the number of visitors and the amount of time they spend in Qatar, major investments are in the works, ranging from new cities and hotels to a variety of cultural focal points. Qatar and its partners will be investing $15bn in new tourism projects in the coming years. Compared to the rest of the region, this represents one of the largest outlays in tourism facilities. However, with most of these projects still to come to fruition, there is still a lot of work to be done. In fact in some cases, like unplanned visits for instance, it can be difficult to find accommodation in Doha.
Since 2004 there has been a major push to increase the number of hotel rooms. In 2004 there were 3706 rooms, whilst today in 2007 that number has risen to 7398. Many hotels are currently under development, among them some of the best-known international hotel chains, including Hilton, Shangri-la, Four Seasons, Marriott, Rotana and Renaissance.
With the influx of new hotels, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) is in the process of introducing a new hotel classification system that will be introduced in two phases. The first will concentrate on quantitative factors, such as the number of rooms and range of facilities, while the qualitative factors, such as service quality will be considered in the second phase.
Acting director general of the QTA, Jan Poul De Boer said, "The new classification system will establish a high degree of transparency for Qatar's [...] guests."
The authority, which was launched in 2000, supervises the development of the tourism industry in the emirate. It is actively promoting the country and has stated it wants to position Qatar as a leading high-quality tourism destination.
De Boer told OBG that the QTA wants the country to be viewed as a Switzerland of the Middle East. The strategy is to position Qatar in niche markets such as medical, sports, stop-over and education tourism. He said that Qatar is really not interested in the mass-market side of the business and it will be its world-class hotels and resorts that will help attract high-end newcomers in the long run.
The country's second Four Seasons hotel will be built on The Pearl, a four sq km island that will hold 7600 high quality dwellings, three luxury hotels with more than 900 rooms, four marinas with spaces for more than 700 boats, and a variety of community and entertainment areas. The man-made island is expected to attract tourists and expatriates alike.
The construction of the 32 sq km Lusail development just north of Doha is also expected to add more accommodation. It will include ten resort hotels, two golf courses, 3000 lifestyle villas, 12,000 apartments, 300,000 sq m of retail shopping, and 6,000,000 sq m of commercial space. It is expected to be finished by 2010 and will also offer homes to the influx of foreign workers.