What impact has the recent political tension in the region had on tourism in Qatar?
AL NUAIMI: Even before the tension, Qatar had positioned itself as a tourist destination. We have made significant changes and we have created a plan and a vision for Qatar economically. The tensions and changes in the Middle East have actually been positive for Qatar. We have seen an increase in the number of visitors coming to Doha, so that has made us pay more attention to the region in the recent last few months. Most of these visitors are from the GCC (Gulf Cooperative Council) countries.
Do you think that Qatar’s reputation as a stable and safe destination has been properly communicated internationally?
AL NUAIMI: We have planned it very well with our vision, the Vision of 2030. We have worked internationally to promote Qatar as a destination for tourism. Qatar has never been looked at as a tourist destination but for the last 5 years we have had a plan that we have marketed and promoted for the regional and international markets. People have started to look at Qatar as a destination. At the same time, we are not looking at Qatar as a leisure destination; we are looking at it as a business, convention, exhibition destination for business people to do business but at the same time to enjoy the country and what it has to offer.
In what ways is Qatar differentiating itself as a tourism destination?
AL NUAIMI: Qatar is very young when it comes to tourism; this industry has existed for only 5 years. We have established ourselves in a way that will not allow mass tourism to come to Doha. We want people to come and enjoy the luxury of Doha. Qatar has been investing heavily in museums, conventions, facilities, shopping malls and infrastructure. We want people to come, enjoy and benefit from their visit to Doha. That’s why we are trying to differentiate ourselves. At the same time, we are not really overseeing our culture and our tradition; we still believe to preserve our tradition and culture in Doha. With the increase in the number of visitors coming to Doha, it could shake your population or shake your culture or shake your tradition. We try not to oversee the tradition and the culture.
How well coordinated are the efforts of government entities and the private sector in promoting Qatar as a tourism destination?
AL NUAIMI: QTA or the Qatar Tourism Authority has been working very closely with our stakeholders. Five years ago, Qatar had only 2,500 rooms total, but as of today, we have about 13,500 rooms available in the market. We have had an increase in the number of hotels and the number of international brands in the country. There are more activities when it comes to leisure, tourism, and meetings. Last year, we held about 250 events in the country. This should be expected to increase by 10%, if not more. These events and activities are all international events. This has created a flow of business for the country. The private and government sectors are working together right now to achieve more targets more in the future. We want to increase the number of hotels and someone has to build them. It has become a reality that now everyone has to work together. We are working very closely with the Museum Authority and we are working very closely with Souq Waqif. We now have 72 hotels in Qatar and the number is increasing every six months to one year. And we are working very closely with other government bodies that are related to the infrastructure of tourism.
How would you describe the current balance of supply and demand with regard to hotel room supply?
AL NUAIMI: The number of visitors to Doha has increased compared to last year. This is also because the tension is happening in the area. Is the supply of rooms coming to the market right now increasing very fast? Yes, but we are working with it. When you look at the supply from last year, with the increasing number of rooms coming to the market, the occupancy percentage has been good. If you compare this year to last year, we are about 10 points higher, which is good. By the end of the year (2011), our number of rooms will have increased by 20%. We know that on the books we have enough demand to occupy all of those rooms. Our job and the other government’s bodies’ job is to create the demand for the increased supply of rooms coming to Doha.
How will the opening of the national convention center alter the landscape for the MICE sector?
AL NUAIMI: The Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) is an added value to the market and it is one of the stakeholders for the tourism industry. This is going to be used as a tool to market Qatar as a destination. QTA is going to open a new convention center; actually the exhibition itself is going to be opening by the end of next year. The convention will open in 2013. This will be an additional facility to the market and, the QTA and QNCC can work together to bid for huge events coming to Doha. There is also a demand for the number and supplies of hotels coming to Doha. QNCC has been forecasted the increased demand for such an event. Qatar has been a leader in the region to host huge events, so we needed those types of facilities coming to the market.
With the full operation of the new airport, they (passengers) will reach about 50 million. We just have to target 5% of those transits coming through Doha for one night or two nights. That’s 2.5 million passengers coming through Doha, which is a huge increase for the next years to come.
What strategies are you employing to attract these huge events and the MICE audience?
AL NUAIMI: We have built and created facilities. We have also created the atmosphere and the infrastructure for visitors to come and enjoy the business with the pleasure. That’s how we are promoting the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) industry. Our strategy as Qatar Tourism Authority is based on culture, business, sport, and leisure, and this is how we are promoting the country and how we are attracting people to enjoy Doha.
What are your main objectives and targets for the Qatar in 48 Hours Program and what kind of preliminary response have you received from stakeholders in the program?
AL NUAIMI: Qatar in 48 Hours was actually launched one year ago. We have actually launched it softly last year. This year, we are working with Qatar Airways to launch it internationally. We want people to enjoy Qatar in 48 hours. Recent studies show that people come to Doha to just do business, attend conventions, conferences or exhibitions for a day and then, they leave. We don’t know the reason because Qatar has a lot to offer. Qatar is not the same as five years ago, there are more facilities to enjoy, more shopping, more hotels, more restaurants, and more activities to do. You can do sport activities, more leisure activities, and you can do cultural activities, but people are not aware of this. So we introduced this Qatar in 48 Hours so that people could come to Doha and stay longer. They do not have to stay 48 hours; it could be another 24 hours. This program is good for the transit business, since Qatar Airways has been increasing the capacity of the passengers. For this year, they are expected to reach 16 million passengers. With the opening of the new airport, by 2013, they will be expected to reach 30 million. With the full operation of the new airport, they will reach about 50 million. We just have to target 5% of those transits coming through Doha for one night or two nights. That’s 2.5 million passengers coming through Doha, which is a huge increase for the next years to come. They will fill up all of the facilities, all the developments happening here, and to enjoy it.
What role does the QTA play in the goals outlined in Qatar’s National Vision 2030?
AL NUAIMI: Our role is to make sure we achieve the goals of tourism plans in Qatar, to oversee the development of a tourism infrastructure in the country and to make sure that we meet the Vision. The Vision has been shortened to 5 year plans; right now, we have 2011 and 2016. After 2016, we will see what is missing from the Vision, and then it will be looked at and revised. Our job is to work parallel with this Vision. Our strategy is to work very closely to the Visions for 2016 and 2030 so we make sure that all of those targets have been met for the tourism infrastructure for the whole country.