Browsing 'QTA' News

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Qatar will build new eco lodges, desert adventure resorts, nature reserves and heritage boutique hotels to attract millions of visitors in the coming five years, officials have announced.

The goal is to have tourism contribute QR41.3 billion directly to the country’s coffers – or about 3.8 percent of Qatar’s GDP – by 2023.

The target was announced yesterday. It comes amid an ongoing boycott led by neighboring Saudi Arabia, whose citizens accounted for one-third of the 2.9 million visitors to Qatar last year.

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Cognizant of its dependence on Gulf tourists, officials said they hope to double the number of visitors to 5.6 million by 2023 through “diversification.”

This means wooing more people from populous nations like Russia, China and India, said Hassan Al Ibrahim, chief tourism development officer at Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA).

The QTA opened three offices in China – in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – earlier this month.

Plans are also afoot to set up new offices in India and Russia to market Qatar, Al Ibrahim said.

He added that in the coming year, the QTA will be replaced with a new body – the National Tourism Council. It will report to a board chaired by the country’s Prime Minister.

Six zones

As part of its new plan, Qatar will bill itself as “a hub to discover.”

New destinations and events will focus on the country’s culture and heritage, with emphasis placed on family entertainment, sport and leisure.

Nada Badawi

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One aim is to have 67 percent of all tourists by 2023 in town for leisure purposes. Qatar will also further develop its appeal as a destination for business tourism, for people who come for conferences and trade expos.

To accomplish its goals, the country will be divided into six regional zones, each with a particular tourism focus:

  • Doha will be a center of cultural tourism, with several, as yet unnamed new projects planned;
  • Al Khor and Al Thakira to the northwest will promote eco-tourism;
  • Zubarah and Ras Brouq at the northern tip of the peninsula will emphasize heritage projects;
  • New resorts in Dukhan will focus on relaxation and wellness;
  • The southwestern areas of Al Mashahiya and Al Eraiq are planned to have nature reserves, providing tourists with typical desert and hunting experiences; and
  • Camping and adventure will be the theme of resorts at Al Udeid and Sealine, in the southeast of the country.

“We want to increase awareness to the world of what Qatar offers as a tourism destination,” Al Ibrahim said.

Luxury lodges and heritage hotels

One part of the tourism strategy entails creating heritage boutique hotels through the renovation of abandoned fishing villages on Qatar’s northern coast.

A picturesque fishing boat harbor and small souqs are also planned.

Doha News

QTA-proposed eco lodge

Visitors there would be able to partake in surfing and gliding, free diving, traditional diving from fishing boats, hot air ballooning, hunting and camel riding trips.

Luxury “low environmental impact eco-lodges” are planned for Bin Ghannam island, northeast of Doha.

Jeff Epp

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There, boat tours amid the mangroves and safari trips to observe native wild animals would be offered.

Meanwhile at Al Uraiq and Mashabiya on the southwestern coast, new resorts will focus on habitat conservation and wildlife protection.

In additional to the Salwa resort, which is already under construction, there will be a new Mashabiya resort.

A model of the plans for this was on display, showing a low-level resort tucked into the desert.

It will provide activities including a camel training center, shooting range, museum and education center in addition to swimming pools and restaurants.

Doha News

QTA model of proposed Mashabiya resort

Public and private organizations will be expected to collaborate to develop new products and services and there will be a concerted effort to improve the overall visitor experience in Qatar, Al Ibrahim added.

More festivals are also planned, such as the summer festival that brought in QR630 million last year. Additionally, new year-round family events are in the works.

Details of these have yet to be revealed.

Boosting occupancy

Qatar also has plans to boost hotel occupancy, which has fallen recently due to the surge in hotel construction ahead of the World Cup.

Occupancy fell 4 percent to 66 percent in the first quarter of this year, before the blockade began. By June, it stood at 62 percent.

Millennium Plaza Doha/Facebook

Millennium Plaza hotel in Al Sadd, which opened earlier this year

The new plan aims to raise this to 72 percent by 2023.

“Yes, the occupancy rate has dropped. This was expected as the number of hotels under construction has increased year-on-year. This is a normal phenomenon, especially prior to major events in any destination,” Al Ibrahim said.

The official remained positive that visitor number targets would be met, even if the blockade continues beyond the short term.

“I believe that with the new strategy and expediting diversification and getting into new (tourism) markets, we can make up for the loss of the regional market we made in the last few months,” he added.

Diversifying

Even before the Gulf crisis hit, tourism numbers from other GCC countries fell 2 percent, according to QTA figures from the first quarter of this year.

Qatar’s tourism sector has previously relied heavily on visitors from Gulf countries. Last year, they accounted for 45 percent of the country’s 2.9 million visitors.

QTA/Twitter

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However, Qatar is increasingly appealing to visitors from Europe and the Americas. In the first half of this year, the number of tourists from these countries increased by 10 and 7 percent respectively compared to the same period last year.

People traveling from non-Arab Asian countries were the next largest group of visitors. They saw a 4 percent increase to 352,469 from January to June 2017.

Looking ahead

Once established, the National Tourism Council will focus on strategic planning, attracting investment and regulation.

There will also be three new organizations that will develop resorts and tourist experiences, market these internationally and bring in more business events.

Visit Qatar/Twitter

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If met, these targets will put Qatar on the way to reaching its previously announced goal  of attracting more than 7 million visitors a year to the country by 2030.

Thoughts?

Thomas Hawk/Flickr

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Many hotels in Qatar said they will be serving alcohol to guests this week, in an apparent change from a ban on booze before Eid Al Adha.

At least nine five-star establishments have confirmed to customers that their restaurants will be open and selling liquor, after receiving government approval.

This is a reversal of rules that have been in place for two years that required restaurants, bars and clubs to be dry for the nine days leading up to Eid, as well as the first day of the Muslim holiday itself.

Ray Toh / Doha News

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This year, Eid is expected to start on Sept. 1.

Speaking to Doha News, hotel representatives did not explain the reason for the change in policy.

But the decision to relax the rules comes as many local hotels are struggling to attract visitors due to an ongoing Gulf blockade.

What’s open?

While some hotels said they will continue business as normal, others said they will go dry for one day, on Aug. 31, only.

So far, the hotels that told customers they will continue selling liquor at least most days include the Four Seasons Hotel Doha, the W Doha Hotel, the InterContinental Doha The City, the Hilton Hotel and The Sheraton Grand in Dafna/West Bay, as well as the Marsa Malaz Kempinski on the Pearl-Qatar, the Grand Hyatt Hotel by Lagoona mall, the St. Regis Hotel and InterContinental Hotel near Katara.

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

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Some hotels said their bars would be open and serving alcohol throughout, although there would be no live music or entertainment.

However, others said they were still awaiting instructions about whether their bars and clubs would be allowed to open.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s sole off-license, QDC, closed yesterday, and will re-open on Sept. 3.

The warehouse stopped selling alcohol in the run-up to Eid Al Adha for the past two years.

Hajj period

The days prior to Eid-Al Adha are known by Muslims as the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah. This is the twelfth and last month of the Islamic calendar.

During this time, Muslims from around the world travel to Makkah in Saudi Arabia to undertake Hajj (pilgrimage).

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

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Even for observant Muslims who are not performing Hajj, the first 10 days of this month are believed to be blessed days to undertake good deeds.

This is not the only time of year when Qatar hotels usually are required to go dry.

Alcohol sales are also prohibited during the month of Ramadan, until the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, and on the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, which this year falls around Dec. 1.

Tough times

In recent years, Qatar hotels have been busy particularly with tourists from Saudi Arabia. They often travel with their large families for the long public holiday.

The dearth of these tourists, as well as those from the UAE and Bahrain, have had a significant impact on Qatar’s tourism and hospitality industry this summer.

In 2016, more than 40 percent of all visitors to Qatar came from other Gulf countries, according the Qatar Tourism Authority’s annual report.

QTA/Twitter

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The blockade will also likely hurt revenues during the upcoming Eid Al Adha. This is usually one of the busiest times of the year for visitors.

However, even before the dispute began, hoteliers in Qatar were reporting tough times.

To widen the country’s appeal as a travel destination, authorities said this month that citizens of more than 80 countries would be able to visit visa-free.

This includes nationals of Russia, China and India.

Four-day transit visas for Qatar Airways travelers were also made free last November, and cruise passengers docking in Doha can now get a free visa on arrival.

Thoughts?

QTA

The MSC Fantasia, which first docked in Qatar in December 2016.

Nearly 50,000 people visited Qatar via cruise this season, an increase of more than 1,000 percent from last year, officials have announced.

The surge in visitors was helped by an increase in the number of cruise ships coming to Qatar.

Another big factor was the rollout of a new free 96-hour transit visa for tourists late last year. This made it easy for any passenger onboard a ship to disembark in the country.

QTA

Cruise visitors in Qatar

The growth in cruise visitors is a win for the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), which struggled to attract visitors last year due to what it called increasing competition and political turmoil in the region.

In a statement yesterday, Hassan Al Ibrahim, the QTA’s chief tourism development officer, said:

“Collectively, we have proven Qatar’s value as a successful and attractive tourist destination to dozens of cruise liners and thousands of passengers.

I am confident that even as work begins on the redevelopment of Doha Port, we will be able to provide smooth and memorable end-to-end experiences that reinforce Qatar’s position as a truly world-class hub with deep, authentic roots.”

By the numbers

Some 22 cruise ships and one mega-yacht docked at Qatar’s ports during the most recent season, which ran from October to April.

That’s more than double the 10 ships Qatar welcomed during the 2015-2016 season. During that period, only 4,000 passengers were issued tourist visas.

Milaha

Photo of Doha Port for illustrative purposes only.

According to QTA’s annual report, authorities are ambitiously expecting some 300,000 cruise visitors during the 2019/2020 season.

To help with that goal, a QR2 billion overhaul of Doha Port is planned. The aim is to attract visitors by making this a turnaround port during the next cruise season.

In its annual report, QTA explained:

“Becoming a turnaround port means that in the near future, international cruise passengers could fly to Qatar, enter using a transit visa, and begin and end their cruise in Doha.

This will increase the length of stay in Qatar of a growing segment of visitors, and allow them to further explore our country’s tourism offering, while increasing the economic impact of cruise tourism.”

Tough market

Cruise tourism has been a bright spot for Qatar, which saw overall visitor numbers fall last year, after three years of growth.

According to QTA’s annual report, some 2,938,000 people visited Qatar in 2016, compared to 2,941,000 in 2015.

Reem Saad / Doha News

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One-third of those visitors hailed from neighboring Saudi Arabia. Another big chunk came from the UAE, Bahrain and Oman.

Authorities have been trying to diversify away from Gulf visitors, however, and cruises have helped with this.

The QTA said that the top 10 nationalities of people who visited Qatar via cruise ships were British, Italian, Spanish, German, Belgian, French, Swiss, American, Brazilian and Irish.

Thoughts?