From cutting-edge hotels to world-class sporting events, by 2030, Qatar hopes to attract six million visitors a year. Berthold Trenkel, chief operating officer for Qatar National Tourism Council, reveals its master plan.
How is Qatar leading the way as a tourism destination of the future?
“With tourism an important pillar of the ‘Qatar National Vision 2030’, our goal at QNTC is to establish Qatar as a world-leading destination and welcome more than six million visitors a year by 2030. To achieve our mission, an extensive tourism development strategy is underway as we work to diversify and build our appeal for residents and visitors.
“There are over 100 hotels currently under construction, which will meet the needs of every budget and itinerary; on top of the already existing 160-plus properties. Qatar has something for everyone and offers the best of the Middle East in one place. With five-star resorts and hotels, a diverse culinary scene, museums and cultural sights as well as a wide range of outdoor activities available, the country is an ideal destination for travellers.”
How have you been developing your tourism proposition while borders have been closed?
“We have spent the time investing in new and existing tourism assets as well as implementing world-leading health and safety measures in preparation to welcome visitors back when it is safe to do so.
“QNTC has also rolled out the best in class ‘Qatar Clean’ programme in partnership with Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) in all hotels and sectors across the country. This means there is a host of measures including social distancing, frequent sanitisation of surfaces and touchless payments, to ensure a safe experience in hotels, shopping malls, and many of the country’s health clubs and salons.
“Additionally, a number of hotels and resorts have opened, including Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas, the seventh Hilton hotel in the region. The resort is set across 3.5km of private beaches, where guests can stay in their own beach villa with private pools and gardens. It also includes the Desert Falls Water & Adventure Park, which sprawls 57,000 sqm and features 28 slides and rides.
“We will welcome Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som, a unique sustainable resort in Khasooma, which is set to be the first wellbeing resort in the region and the biggest wellness destination in the country. The resort will offer treatments and facilities for sun-seeking families or couples looking to escape to the Arabian dunes.
“We’ll also see Ras Brouq, scheduled to open in 2022, a collection of 48 thoughtfully designed tented villas, assimilated into the desert landscape and the Bin Ghannam Eco Resort, which aims to encourage the local population to improve their knowledge of the conservation of ecology and biodiversity.”
What does the lifting of the blockade by the GCC and Egypt mean for the future of tourism to Qatar?
“Qatar welcomed many visitors and travellers from surrounding countries before the GCC blockade came into force, including nearly one million a year from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alone, making the GCC a priority source market.
“While 2021’s forecast is dependent on many factors, including global vaccine roll-out programmes and global and local travel policies, I am optimistic about the buoyancy of the global tourism industry. We have been busy preparing for an uplift in visitor numbers from the GCC and around the world and look forward to sharing the best of Qatar with our guests.”
What measure is Qatar taking to make the country safe for foreigners to visit?
“Qatar prioritises safety along each visitor touchpoint. Guests will experience this from the moment they board Qatar Airways to when they navigate through Hamad International Airport (HIA).
“Passengers arriving at HIA undergo thermal screening, temperature checks and random Covid-19 PCR tests. HIA is also the first airport in the Middle East and Asia to be awarded a 5-Star Covid-19 Airport Safety Rating by Skytrax. This follows an onsite audit which evaluated the effectiveness of Covid-19 policies being implemented at the airport, measured against Skytrax Covid-19 safety rating standards.
“Residents, citizens and visitors are also required to install the track and trace mobile app, Ehteraz, which uses a colour system through its QR code functionality to identify users’ health status, notifying those who have come in close contact with anyone exposed to Covid-19. Other mandatory measures include wearing face masks and social distancing.
“Lastly, QNTC launched the best in class ‘Qatar Clean’ programme in partnership with Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) in all hotels and sectors across the country.”
What entry requirements will be demanded on incoming tourists? Will they have to quarantine? Will you require a vaccine passport?
“The decision to re-open borders and quarantine measures will be made by government ministries and is dependent on many factors, including the global vaccine roll out and policies for travel both locally and globally.
“The idea of vaccination passports has been discussed by many governments and industries across the world. It is complex topic, which involves the alignment of many international governing bodies. We are hopeful that these entities reach an agreement soon so that we can begin welcoming visitors back to our incredible destination.
“Qatar Airways is heavily involved with IATA in the IATA Travel Pass initiative, which is trying to address this topic. And of course, QNTC is a member of UNWTO, which is also pushing for digital solutions in this space.”
What does the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ mean for Qatar? How will the destination benefit and what will this mean for tourism?
“We are expecting to welcome around 1.5 million visitors for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022TM and to prepare for this, QNTC is undertaking a range of initiatives to offer new and undiscovered experiences for people to enjoy. The destination is constantly evolving to ensure visitors have a seamless and unforgettable trip, including a host of new hotels in the pipeline and improved transport facilities that make getting to and around Qatar easy.
“There will be large fan zones to accommodate the fans, situated in locations around the country, including a zone opening as part of the West Bay North Beach project.
“Sports is an ideal way to bring people together and hosting international sporting events allows us to be part of, and to facilitate, cross-cultural moments of human achievement and unity. This year we had the privilege of supporting the Australian Open men’s qualifiers in January, the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Commercial Bank Golf Masters, Qatar Total Open 2021 and MotoGP.”
How was tourism to Qatar affected by the pandemic? What are your goals for the decade ahead? Please give stats
“Following border closures last year, Qatar and countries around the world inevitably saw a decrease in inbound traveller numbers. Specifically, Qatar saw a 73 per cent decrease in visitor arrivals between 2019 and 2020, due to the closure of borders from the pandemic. However, the drop in hotel occupancy was only 18 per cent and the hotel sector benefited from a boom from domestic tourism and from the mandatory quarantine on arrival programme for residents.
“Despite this, confidence in travel has grown over recent months, due to the ongoing vaccine rollout and as the world has adapted to ensure safe travel. We have implemented numerous safety measures to protect visitors and residents against Covid-19 and we hope this reassures travellers to come and experience Qatar when they’re able to do so.
“While 2021’s forecast is dependent on many factors, including global vaccine roll out programmes and global and local policy, we are still confident we will meet our goal to welcome six million visitors a year by 2030.”
What kinds of futuristic hotels are you developing?
“We have a range of hotels currently under construction including 22 new hotels in Lusail City. The Fairmont & Raffles Lusail Hotels and Residents Qatar is set to become a flagship address not only in Qatar, but for the Middle East. Lusail City is a major innovative urban project in Qatar and the first development of its kind.
“Located across 38 sq km, the vision is for the city to be a blend of residential and commercial neighbourhoods, five-star hotels, golf courses and an amusement park. With many connected services listed to support the project, such as intelligent street lighting, watering, and a smart grid to manage the electrical network, it is the largest single sustainable development to be undertaken in the State of Qatar.
“Our developing hotel proposition covers not only beach escapes, but also active holidays, city breaks, romantic getaways and incredible options for cultural enthusiasts and we’re excited to share more news and new hotels and resorts as they open.”
Why is Qatar such an innovative country, especially when it comes to architecture?
“Innovation and technological advancement are key drivers to achieving the Qatar National Vision 2030 and are seen through many different sectors of society. Doha’s skyline also embodies this – many of our most novel buildings are designed by award-winning architects from around the globe and inspired by traditional motifs; from high-rises to cultural, religious and educational institutions and sporting venues, each structure tells a story.
“An exceptional example of this is the National Museum of Qatar, designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel, and inspired by the naturally occurring crystal formations of the ‘desert rose’. The design features interlocking disks and spans an incredible 39,994 sqm and is built around Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al-Thani’s original palace.
“Other impressive architectural sites include: Museum of Islamic Art, Msheireb Downtown Doha, Qatar National Library and the Burj Doha Tower.”
How important is the UK and US markets to Qatar?
“The United Kingdom and United States are priority markets, and we continue to develop experiences that are accessible and highly appealing for both countries. We have recently appointed an executive sales team which will represent 14 key markets, including US and UK. This will enhance our communication with visitors, tour operators and online travel agencies, to ensure the experience of coming to Qatar is unforgettable.”
Which were your top five inbound tourism markets in 2019? Will this change in 2021/22?
“We welcomed visitors from around the world in 2019, with the top five inbound tourism markets being India, the UK, Germany, the US and Central and Eastern Europe. As part of our tourism development strategy, we are enhancing our marketing strategies and customer experience to other countries such as China, Russia, France and Italy. We aim to bring more international travellers to the country, to experience the very best of what we have to offer.”