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Sat 14 Mar 2009 04:00 AM

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What's new in Qatar?

Slowly but surely Doha is building its credentials as a city of commerce as well as a new cultural centre and meetings venue. Kathi Everden takes a look at a few projects scheduled to open in the city this year.

Slowly but surely Doha is building its credentials as a city of commerce as well as a new cultural centre and meetings venue. Kathi Everden takes a look at a few projects scheduled to open in the city this year.

According to Deloitte, an average daily rate at existing Doha hotels of US $292 in 2008, and a revPar of $206, makes Qatar one of the best performing hospitality markets worldwide, and given an expected 10% rise in GDP in 2009, the outlook for business continues to be bright.

But, with average occupancy at 7%, the figures highlight the commercial focus of visitor statistics where occupancies swing between almost full during the week, to less than satisfactory at weekend and during the summer and Ramadan periods.

We are targeting 20% growth during the next five years.

To fill this gap, the Qatar Tourism & Exhibitions Authority (QTEA) has a remit to tempt premium leisure as well as business, medical, sports and education tourism, combining this with a cultural bouquet of new attractions, typified by the Museum of Islamic Art, which opened in December.

QTEA chairman Ahmed Abdullah Al Nuaimi said around 1.1 million visitors stayed in Qatar in 2008, up 10% on the previous year, and of these some 95% were on business:

"We are targeting 20% growth during the next five years," he said.

"Our goal is to entice all travellers coming to Qatar for business or for a stopover to stay an additional 48 hours in the country - whether to take advantage of our new cultural attractions or enjoy a desert safari and a few hours in one of our world-class spa and wellness centres," he added.

Al Nuaimi pointed out that major sporting events were also attracting visitors, citing the WTA Championship tennis, first ever night-time Moto Grand Prix, the Ladies Cycling Tour of Qatar, as well as the Asian Cup football tournament in 2011 and potential to stage the FIFA Football World Cup in 2018 and even the Olympics in 2020.

Among upcoming developments are the Pearl Qatar with a Riviera-style waterfront, five-star hotels, shopping and dining facilities plus the 35m2 Lusail project that includes Qatar Entertainment City (five hotels, boardwalks, beaches, restaurants, shops, aquarium, nature reserve and Six Flags theme park) and Al Sidra Golf District (golf course, equestrian centre, tennis academy and more).

Along with the new airport, some $17 billion is being invested in Qatar's tourism infrastructure, he said, with a 400% growth in hotel capacity: "There are 9000 rooms currently available in Qatar with 6000 opening this year - 101 hotels are under construction and 29,000 rooms is the target for 2012."

In addition, a new Doha Exhibitions Centre and Tower and the Qatar National Convention Centre - with a combined floor space of 95,000m2 - are on schedule to open in 2011.

W Doha Hotel & Residences

Hoping for, but not confirming, a March 1 opening date, the W Hotel in Doha marks both the beginning of the hotel room boom in the city as well as the launch of a new image for the Qatari capital.Located in West Bay, it's the first property for the hip brand in the region, and will include 291 rooms plus 154 W Residences.

Guests can expect casual elegance, lifestyle-driven design, high-energy interiors, concept restaurants and a swathe of W brands such as a Bliss® Spa, SWEAT® Fitness Center and WET® pool, as well as regional specialities such as (fibre optic rainbow coloured) poolside shisha lounge and adjacent cabanas with free robes, slippers and high speed internet access.

Restaurants include a Mediterranean show kitchen, Asian Spice Market; caviar bar; Crystal champagne lounge, and the Living Room, a new take on the traditional lobby lounge and café.

We will be tailor making packages to attract corporate and MICE markets.

For meetings, there‘s a 775m2 Great Room and three event studios, all backed up with W's innovative take on meetings that can include mood music, aromatherapy scents and retro candles, break-out activities and creative-learning workshops.

The Bliss® spa has nine treatment suites, deluxe nail lounge with movie entertainment, sink-side soap sampling, water lounges and more.

Opening rate is QR1, 62 per room ($460) plus tax and service, inclusive of restaurant, bar and spa discounts and a tour of the souk.

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Club

As existing hotels beef up their products in anticipation of competition, the Ritz-Carlton's contribution, set to open this month, is the new Ritz-Carlton Yacht Club - the first such facility for the upscale brand.

Revamped from the old Admiral's Club and sited on the hotel's private marina, it will be open to members and hotel guests and boasts spectacular views of the city skyline and lagoon.

Facilities include a lounge area, restaurant, bar and outdoor seating on a wooden deck, plus sports such as billiards and table tennis on the upper level and plasma TVs showing international sporting events.

In addition, a new jetty has been constructed at the hotel extending out from the pool area where guests can have free use of kayaks, canoes and pedal boats; while another new gastro offering is La Mer Wine Bar, sited on the 23rd floor and offering a selection of 50 wines plus tapas.

Grand Hyatt Doha

Management claims the USP of the new Grand Hyatt Doha will be its Arabian retreat facilities in a business resort environment - beach, four pools, a 1600m2 spa, big balconies, exceptional cuisine, the latest technology and extensive meetings space all set in a 155,000m2 beach located in West Bay.Dining options range from the Al Maha lobby lounge with floor-to-ceiling window views to the signature Thai restaurant, Isaan, plus an Australian-inspired grill, Mediterranean beach diner and the Italian Biscotti cafe.

For meetings, the Grand Hyatt has Doha's second largest ballroom at 1500m2, in addition to eight meeting rooms and three boardrooms.

Four Seasons Hotel Doha

Another designer brand is due in Doha early next year when the Four Seasons opens its David Rockwell-designed Nobu restaurant. The restaurant will offer 360° views of Doha from its marina location.

Meanwhile, the hotel has opened up its Après Spa Café terrace at the spa for a new weekend promotion - Hip India - gourmet Indian snacks, live sushi, contemporary rhythms and marina views are among the attractions for the ‘in' crowd.

Ramada Plaza Doha

One of the earliest names in Doha, the city-centre Ramada Plaza has expanded with the city and opened a new wing last year to give it 584 rooms, while its original west wing will undergo refurbishment starting May.

New themed rooms include Arabic, Japanese, Indian, Scottish Baronial and English Country Garden, and the hotel has also introduced additional culinary concepts, leisure facilities such as an indoor golf simulator, plus more meeting rooms in the new wing.

According to management, location and outlets continue to be a prime attraction of the hotel, which was voted third in popularity on a Trip Advisor poll of Qatari hotels.

It now has 20 restaurants and bars including Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Italian, seafood, comedy and jazz club, and a tapas restaurant that opened last month.

Doha City Center

Dubbed a ‘new destination' by Shangri-La general manager Wolf Dieter Flecker, the Doha City Centre in West Bay will become a city in a city within a year when around 1400 rooms plus apartments, and 22 outlets, will open in five hotels, enhanced in 2011 by the launch of the adjacent Exhibition Centre and Tower, plus the existing shopping mall.

As well as the 250-room, 60-apartment Shangri-La, there will be a 353-room Merweb Grand; 300-room Rotana with 100 apartments; 250-room Renaissance, 200-room Courtyard by Marriott and a 120-unit Marriott Executive Apartment tower.

Late 2009 is the hoped-for opening date, and each hotel is aiming to attract a distinct clientele - premium guests at the Shangri-La and Renaissance, the latter offering helipad access and spa, while the Courtyard will have nine outlets to tempt frequent business travellers and the Marriott Executive Apartments will offer a gourmet kitchen, private lounge and fitness centre for longer-stay guests.Rotana's general manager, Joseph Coubat said corporate and meetings traffic were the primary targets and the hotel will include a Club Rotana executive floor.

"However, the leisure market will not be neglected and the link with the City Centre shopping mall will help us here - while we will be tailor making packages to attract corporate and MICE markets," he said.

Museum of Islamic Art

Designed by I M Pei - famed for his glass Pyramid at the Louvre - Qatar's latest attraction is the world's first dedicated Islamic art museum, showcasing more than 800 exhibits spanning 1400 years of creativity covering books, manuscripts, ceramics, metal, glass, ivory, textiles, wood and precious stones, drawn from three continents.

The stunning location on an island in the lagoon is complemented by an angular five-storey design in white limestone around a central atrium, while the interior features two floors for the permanent collections, a temporary exhibition gallery, two outdoor courtyards and a gift and bookshop.

According to QTEA chairman Ahmed Abdullah Al Nuaimi, the museum is the new driving force for the country as a cultural destination - it will host the inaugural Tribeca Film Festival Doha this November - while new initiatives include a Cultural Village opening in January 2010, plus a revamped Qatar National Museum and Museum for Contemporary Arab Art.

More information: audio guides are available in Arabic and English; visit or telephone +974 422 4444.

More rooms...

Swiss Belhotel Doha is opening this spring on the corniche, offering 165 large rooms, upwards of 55m2 plus a residential tower with 78 apartments. Facilities will include two executive floors, pan Asian restaurant, cigar bar, all-day dining, health club and pool, and a 300 m2 ballroom.

Other new names scheduled for a Doha debut next year include St Regis with 328 rooms, 4100m2 of conference space and a 1200m2 spa; Hilton with a 300-room property on the corniche, including a dedicated conference wing and Taj Exotica which is being built next to the Doha Golf Club and will feature a large 2000m2 spa, while Langham Hotels has announced plans for two properties and Jumeirah is entering the city with the Jumeirah Dubai Towers in West Bay.

In addition, InterContinental and Four Seasons are doubling up - the former with a 540-room hotel in West Bay and the latter with a 300-room hotel on The Pearl-Qatar's Masa Arabia island - while locally-based Merweb is adding another Grand property in downtown Doha, as well as the Merweb Central, and Rotana has a 400-room property under development near the new airport.

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