Tourism sector soars with record-breaking growth

Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022™ has solidified its position in the tourism sector. Even after this mega-event, the country continues to attract visitors — ushering in an unprecedented era of growth for one of the most important drivers of economic prosperity and diversification in the region: tourism.

In this interview, H.E. Saad Bin Ali Al Kharji, chairman of Qatar Tourism, shares the various strategic initiatives and collaborations that the country has unveiled to support this development further. He also discusses the upcoming unified GCC visa and the specific segments that they are focusing on, including cruise tourism and Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE).

Qatar’s tourism sector continues to thrive. The country saw a record high of four million visitors in 2023 and has seen over two million visitors in the first four months of 2024 alone. Can you tell us more about Qatar’s tourism initiatives that helped deliver these numbers?

Qatar’s tourism sector’s resilience is evident from the record-breaking influx of visitors, reaching over four million in 2023 and over two million in the first four months of 2024.

Strategic initiatives and collaborative efforts, including hosting high-profile events, have propelled our tourism landscape forward. Qatar’s legacy of hosting renowned events — such as the FIFA World Cup, the Geneva International Motor Show, Formula 1, Web Summit, Qatar Economic Forum, and many others — has solidified our position as a global destination of choice. These events not only attract international attention but also leave a lasting impact, showcasing Qatar’s capabilities and enhancing our tourism offerings.

In 2023/24, we have also witnessed record numbers for our Cruise Season, which has significantly contributed to our burgeoning tourism sector.

Qatar Tourism’s “Stopover in Qatar”, in collaboration with Qatar Airways, offers travelers a glimpse into our rich cultural heritage and diverse offerings, enhancing their overall experience. Qatar’s commitment to openness is underscored by being the most open country in the Middle East and the 8th most open in the world in terms of visa facilitation, with 102 countries granted visas on arrival.

Additionally, our enhanced digital ecosystem for travelers ensures seamless navigation and access to information. With a commitment to service excellence and a vision to welcome six million annual visitors by 2030, Qatar is poised to become a premier international destination, offering unparalleled experiences to visitors from around the globe.

Qatar Tourism

How has the local tourism sector expanded since the World Cup? How impactful was this mega-event?

Since the FIFA World Cup 2022™, Qatar’s tourism sector has experienced significant expansion and development.

New districts like the Qetaifan Islands have emerged, and new hotels and attractions have opened. These include the Meryal Waterpark and Our Habitas Ras Abrouq. These developments align with Qatar’s National Development Strategy Phase 3 and Qatar National Vision 2030, which identify the tourism sector as a key driver of economic diversification.

The success of the FIFA World Cup 2022™ served as a catalyst for showcasing the unique culture, heritage, and hospitality of Qatar and the GCC region to the world. The event positioned Qatar as a premier destination for sports tourism, leisure travel, and cultural exploration.

Given the tourism and economic boost that the World Cup provided, it’s undeniable how vital the sector is in fostering growth. Can you share some exciting projects that are underway for Qatar’s tourism sector?

The FIFA World Cup 2022™ undeniably provided a significant boost to Qatar’s tourism sector, highlighting its vital role in fostering economic growth. Looking ahead, Qatar has several exciting projects to further enhance its tourism offerings and solidify its position as a premier tourist destination.

One notable initiative is the “Double the Discovery” campaign, a collaborative effort between Qatar Tourism and the Saudi Tourism Authority. This initiative aims to promote tourism in both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, offering joint packages to spotlight both countries’ rich culture and attractions.

Additionally, Qatar Tourism’s partnership with Qatar Airways has led to the launch of the “Stopover in Qatar” campaign. This initiative allows travelers to expand their destination experience and explore Qatar’s attractions during their layover.

These initiatives are aligned with Qatar’s long-term vision for tourism outlined in the Qatar National Vision 2030. The vision identifies the tourism sector as a key component of economic diversification and sustainable growth. Qatar aims to leverage its strategic location, excellent air connectivity, and visa-free proposition to attract visitors from around the globe while prioritizing preserving its rich cultural heritage and natural landscapes. The goal is to increase the tourism sector’s contribution to Qatar’s GDP by 12 percent by 2030, reflecting the sector’s significant potential as a driver of economic prosperity and job creation.

Qatar Tourism

Several trends are shaping the tourism landscape in the MENA region, with Qatar capitalizing on key developments to enhance its position as a leading destination. One prominent trend is the increasing demand for family-friendly travel experiences, driven by the growing number of families seeking inclusive and diverse vacation options. Qatar has strategically positioned itself as a family-friendly destination, offering a wide range of attractions and activities suitable for all ages.

Qatar also recognizes the importance of catering to the MICE market, which has seen significant growth in recent years. With world-class facilities and infrastructure, including state-of-the-art conference venues and exhibition centers, Qatar has emerged as a preferred destination for international conferences, exhibitions, and corporate events. Events, such as the Web Summit and Qatar Economic Forum, have further elevated Qatar’s profile on the global stage, attracting business travelers and industry leaders from around the world.

In addition to curated activations and high-profile events, Qatar boasts a diverse calendar of year-round cultural festivals and celebrations, showcasing its rich heritage and vibrant cultural scene. These events draw visitors from across the region and contribute to Qatar’s reputation as a dynamic and culturally vibrant destination.

Qatar’s commitment to enhancing accessibility and transportation infrastructure has also driven tourism growth. The efficient and modern transportation network — including the world’s best airport, Hamad International Airport, the world’s best airline, Qatar Airways, and Qatar’s metro system, Doha Metro — ensures seamless connectivity for travelers.

Furthermore, Qatar’s renowned hospitality, characterized by warmth, generosity, and exceptional service, continues to leave a lasting impression on visitors, further enhancing the overall tourism experience.

How will the introduction of the unified GCC tourist visa impact tourism in the region, and what efforts are underway to ensure its successful implementation?

The introduction of the unified GCC tourist visa, slated to commence by the end of 2024, marks a significant milestone in the region’s tourism landscape. This initiative aims to streamline travel procedures across GCC member states, offering tourists a seamless and hassle-free experience. Qatar Tourism is actively engaged in collaborative efforts with our counterparts in Gulf countries to achieve Gulf tourism integration and facilitate the implementation of the unified Gulf tourist visa. The unified visa initiative could attract more regional visitors by offering them unparalleled tourist experiences while maintaining a sincere dedication to Service Excellence.

Qatar recognizes the importance of partnerships and collaborations across GCC countries to promote tourism in the region. We are committed to working closely with our Gulf counterparts to foster tourism integration, exchange best practices, and leverage collective strengths to position the Gulf and Middle East region as a premier tourist destination.

The Gulf and Middle East region is characterized by the uniqueness, richness, and diversity of its culture and offerings, extending from the Arab Maghreb to Doha in the farthest reaches of the Arab East. Through joint efforts and strategic collaborations, we aim to showcase our region’s cultural heritage, natural beauty, and hospitality to visitors from around the world, further enhancing the visitor experience and fostering an understanding of Gulf culture.

Qatar Tourism

Tourism is such an expansive sector. Are there any markets that Qatar is prioritizing? What are your key projects for these markets?

Qatar Tourism has strategically identified 15 priority source markets, with Tier 1 markets, including Saudi Arabia, India, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. These markets are pivotal in driving visitor arrivals and tourism revenue to Qatar. Additionally, our tourism strategy encompasses six demand spaces catering to the diverse preferences of travelers. These demand spaces range from active holiday and luxury city breaks to culture enthusiasts and romantic getaways, ensuring a tailored experience for every visitor.

To effectively target these markets, Qatar Tourism has structured its strategy around 12 key pillars. These pillars form the foundation of our efforts and initiatives toward tourism development, sector support, and the implementation of the National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030. They include regulatory support, festivals and events, marketing and advertising, public relations and communication, domestic tourism promotion, regional and international tourism, the MICE sector, international market promotion, talent development, asset development, cruise tourism, and digital and social system enhancement.

In addition to the comprehensive framework outlined by the 12 key pillars, Qatar Tourism has also curated specialized itineraries tailored to the preferences and interests of visitors from each market segment. These curated experiences ensure that travelers from our priority markets have access to unique and memorable experiences that showcase the best of Qatar’s offerings.

Qatar also has high hopes and an ambitious plan to become a leader in cruise tourism. Can you share how the sector has developed, and what are some future targets and plans?

Doha’s emergence as a premier cruise destination reflects Qatar’s commitment to expanding its tourism offerings. Despite previous challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry in Qatar has demonstrated remarkable resilience and growth. Since its inception in 2016, with modest numbers, the industry has seen extraordinary expansion. The 2023-24 Cruise Season marked a significant milestone, with record-breaking visitor and cruise ship statistics showcasing Qatar Tourism’s dedication to cruise tourism development.

Qatar welcomed 73 cruise ships and hosted more than 378,000 visitors. This marks an increase from its predecessor, the 2022-23 season, which saw 54 cruise ships and 253,191 passengers, making 2023-24 one of the largest-ever cruise seasons.

The newly expanded Doha Port Cruise Ships Terminal, known as “The Terminal”, serves as Qatar’s hub for cruise tourism, offering exceptional hospitality and experiences. Looking ahead, Qatar aims to further elevate its position in cruise tourism to bring back the next cruise season bigger and better toward the end of 2024.

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