Having observed Dubai's explosive growth, Qatar has taken note and is investing in its infastructure to help promote the region as an emerging high-end tourism destination.
Pearling was one of the bases of Qatar's early economy before the discovery of oil. Now the Qatar Government is diversifying and looking to improve its infrastructure in a carefully prepared effort to boost its profile as a tourism destination.
While Dubai has been grabbing all the headlines - establishing itself as the Gulf's globally recognised business and tourism hotspot - Qatar has adopted a more considered strategy, but one that may eventually prove to be no less effective.
To further expand this sector we need to increase the capacity from the hotels, venues, local operators and the general infrastructure.
The Qatari Peninsula juts 100 miles (161 km) north into the Persian Gulf from Saudi Arabia.
Doha, Qatar's largest city and capital plays host to the majority of local and international events and in recent years has built up an impressive portfolio of luxury hotels in a bid to accommodate any increase in the currently moderate tourism traffic the destination may eventually see.
The small Gulf monarchy of Qatar is "booming" according to the latest research from global information publisher Euromonitor International.
Its report states that Qatar is among the countries with the highest living standards in the world.
At US $62,914 it had the world's third highest per capita GDP in 2006 just behind Norway and Luxembourg.
This has made Qatar an attractive consumer market. The government is also establishing Doha as an international ‘brand' to make it better known and to attract foreign investment in finance and tourism.The report also states that tourism is set to "expand" and that the government will seek to almost double visitor numbers from the 754,000 in 2006 to 1.4 million by the end of 2008.
One facet of Qatar's tourism strategy is to host major sporting events like the 2006 Asian Games and to bid for the 2018 FIFA football World Cup.
So while the destination isn't drowning in tourists just yet, agents should be aware that this destination is serious about expanding its tourism intake.
With all the development that's in place, it will be somewhere you'll bring your family.
Business is best
The corporate travel sector currently accounts for the vast majority of all travel to Qatar.
This has been driven by the national carrier Qatar Airways founded in 1993, which made Doha an important stopover for Middle East-bound business travellers.
The Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) recently decided to acknowledge the importance of the business events sector in the Gulf and became the Qatar Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (QTEA) in order to grow awareness of Qatar's role in this field.
"From a tourism perspective, the driving sector in Qatar is the corporate/business sector; 95% of the visitors to Qatar come because they are doing business," explains QTEA chairman Ahmed Al Nuaimi.
"Because the focus of Qatar is to further develop the meetings, conventions and exhibitions sector, it made sense to create the QTEA. The leisure element is mainly generated in conjunction with the business travel, or sometimes as a stop-over to another destination."
QTEA is now responsible for managing the temporary Doha Exhibitions Centre, which opened in February and the Doha Convention Centre, which is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in 2010.The latter will replace the Qatar International Exhibitions Centre, which was demolished in December to make way for the new facility.
The Doha Convention Centre will complement the Qatar National Convention Centre, which is being developed by the Qatar Foundation and is also set to open in 2010.
"To further expand this sector we need to increase the capacity from the hotels, venues, local operators and the general infrastructure, like the new airport which will open in 2010," explains Al Nuaimi.
"Several new hotels are being built and will open between the end of 2008 and the first or second quarter of 2009: for example the Grand Hyatt, Shangri-La, Marriott Courtyard, Renaissance, Rotana, Hilton etc."
Qatar currently boasts 7500 hotel rooms, but this number will also double when an additional 6000 rooms are added by the end of 2009, Al Nuaimi notes.
"In the meantime, while the infrastructure is being developed, Qatar is increasing its level of awareness as the country is still very young," he adds.
Qatar also has the advantage of boasting one of the fastest growing airlines worldwide.
If increasing numbers of affluent Middle East tourists do choose the region as their vacation destination, the new airport currently under construction in Qatar and the new routes Qatar Airways is constantly rolling out mean the nation will be prepared to accommodate them.
A Euromonitor report on the airline reveals that the carrier averaged nearly 40% annual growth in both passenger numbers and revenue in 2006 and its fleet will almost triple in size to reach 110 aircraft by 2018. New orders for planes will total US $16 billion.
When Qatar does start to become more tourism-orientated comparisons with Dubai will be inevitable, but Qatar will have benefitted from charting Dubai's progress before establishing its own plans.
"You look at it today and it's primarily a business city," says Hoss Vetry, general manager of the Al Sharq Village and Spa in Doha, which is managed by The Ritz-Carlton Company, LLC.
"But with all the development that's in place, it will be somewhere you'll bring your family. I think Doha is learning from some of Dubai's mistakes and is trying to avoid some of the issues that Dubai has had and build itself up carefully."
The Al Sharq Village, located just five minutes from the airport, is one property that caters to one of Qatar's target markets - high-end leisure guests.
The property recently opened the exclusive Royal Villa, which Vetry says caters to the top 5% of the leisure market.
"It's a unique place, with its own indoor pool, a majilis for up to 20 guests and an outdoor area where you can smoke shisha," he adds.
When it comes to attracting overseas visitors, the Qatar Government's focus is very much centred on quality rather than quantity, says outgoing QTEA director of marketing & communications Daniela Grendene.
"Qatar does not really target the mass market," she says.
"Package holiday tours are for the upper end of the sector." Out and about
For high-end clients enquiring about Qatar there are plenty of activities on offer to keep them happily occupied during their stay , particularly watersports.
Two artificial reefs have been built for scuba-diving, while Doha Bay provides a stunning view of Doha at night.
Luxury yachts can be rented for half- and full-day fishing trips and there are jet-skis, water skis, pedal boast, kayaks and water cycles are all available for hire.
The high-end hotel properties in Doha are complemented by high-quality shopping centres like the Bellagio and City Centre that host retail outlets by world-famous brands that will always appeal to GCC clients.
Doha also has an array of markets (souqs) where items are not marked with traditional price tags; haggling is welcomed and expected - perfect for clients on the lookout for a bargain.
For the golfing enthusiasts a visit to the Doha Golf Club is a must.
The 18-hole,181-yard, par 72 championship course was designed by Peter Harradine and has played host to major international golfing championships.
City Centre Doha has ice skating rinks where you can rent skates by the hour.
Qatar Bowling Centre offers ten-pin bowling in a 32-lane facility and the City Centre Doha has two bowling alleys - one for ladies only.
More adventurous clients can also take a trip to the inland sea in the middle of the desert on a desert safari.
Animal-loving clients are also catered to with the Oryx Farm and Equestrian Club in Shahaniya.
Visitors can see the Oryx antelope, the national animal of Qatar in its natural surroundings and hire horses for a canter or a gallop.
Culture vultures can browse Doha's National Museum, Photography Museum, National Library and the Museum of Islamic Arts.
Agents should keep an eye on further developments in Qatar, which is clearly focused on increasing leisure tourism to its shores, so watch this space.
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