Experiential travel is driving tourism growth in Qatar, as the country works towards its 2030 ambitions to welcome 10 million visitors a year and generate $17.8 billion in tourism receipts.
According to research, Qatar will look to generate 5.2 per cent of its GDP through tourism over the coming years, creating 98,000 jobs and managing an inventory of 63,000 hotel rooms.
A perfect example of experiential travel is Souq Waqif in Doha, which offers several small shops lined along paths with an array of Middle Eastern merchandise, from spices and seasonal delicacies to perfumes, jewelry, clothing and handicrafts.
While the country’s culture and heritage remains of paramount importance, Qatar is also set to invest up to $45 billion in new developments under the National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030. These include $2.3 billion earmarked for 2022 World Cup facilities and $6.9 billion for transport infrastructure and associated projects.
Qatar’s well-paced National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030 is expected to boost tourism numbers over the coming decade, with the first milestone of four million visitors a year by 2020.
The government, hotel operators, airlines, and other stakeholders, are now beginning to see a return on their investment into the country’s tourism sector. Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) predicts the tourism sector’s total economic contribution will reach QAR81.2 billion ($22.2 billion) (7.3 per cent of GDP) by 2026, up from QR48.5 billion ($13.3 billion) in 2015.
In 2015, investment in travel and tourism activity comprised 2.2 per cent of the country’s total funding, with this expected to rise by 8.6 per cent per annum to 2026. The introduction of new demand drivers will be vital to supporting the continued rise in leisure spending, which is expected to reach values of QR44.9 billion ($12.3 billion) in 2026, while business travel spending is expected to rise to QAR 17.5 billion in 2026.
Qatar is already the fastest growing destination in the region in terms of visitor arrivals, averaging 11.5 per cent growth over the past five years, according to data from the QTA. The Authority’s Tourism Performance Summary, for the third quarter of 2016, recorded arrivals of 2.18 million visitors in the first nine months of the year, including more than 1 million GCC nationals.
Qatar’s Hamad International Airport (HIA) saw passenger traffic jump 20 per cent in 2016, handling some 37.3 million passengers, a leap of 7.3 million from the previous year. The surge is partly attributed to the operator Qatar Airways’ fast growth, which included 14 additional destinations last year. The airline giant has also announced the world’s longest flight by duration – a 17+ hour route from Auckland to Doha.
Arrivals in 2017 will also receive a boost from the cruise season, running October 2016 to April 2017. It is expected up to 30 ships will dock in Doha during the current season generating 55,000 visitors. This could reach as many as 250,000 passengers by the 2018/19 season.
In order to deal with the expected demand, Qatar currently has 22,921 hotel rooms with a further 15,956 rooms under contract, representing a 69 per cent increase in total stock in the current pipeline. The country posted a decline in hotel performance across all key metrics over 2016, as overall occupancy dropped 12.2 per cent, ADR fell by 7.5 per cent and RevPAR fell by 18.8 per cent.