Qatar’s ambitions to develop its tourism sector

The Qatari government has increased investment in tourism infrastructure since 2008 in an effort to diversify the economy and increase the country’s presence on the world stage. Although it does offer middle-class beach holidays, Qatar has been concentrating on building multi-billion dollar resorts and venues in order to attract high-end vacationers and large-scale business and sporting events.

  • Qatar has recorded average annual real GDP growth of 13.4% between 2004 and 2009 on the back of its energy sector. These finances have allowed government expenditure on tourism to increase, with US$20 billion allocated to developing infrastructure, hotels and exhibition space from 2008 to 2014;
  • The tourism sector is not a major contributor to the economy. Qatar’s tourist receipts of US$0.7 billion in 2009 trail Bahrain’s and the United Arab Emirate’s respective figures of US$1.1 billion and US$7.2 billion. However, tourism expenditure is growing and Qatar has attracted tourists in the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) market, hosting over 80 events in 2009;
  • There has been significant investment in high-end tourism developments such as the Lusail City and the planned Qatar Entertainment City. The US$20 billion Pearl project is expected to be complete in 2013, creating 32km of extra coastline and housing residents on artificial islands designed to resemble a string of pearls;
  • Qatar has also sought to develop sports tourism. After successfully hosting the 2006 Asian Games, Qatar is the site of football’s 2011 Asian Cup, and has submitted a bid for the 2022 World Cup, and is also bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Real retail value of travel accommodation and incoming tourist receipts in Qatar: 2009-2014
Retail value RRP in QR billion at constant 2009 prices

Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics.

Implications

  • The government’s plans to improve the country’s infrastructure will boost tourism. The new US$14.5 billion Doha International airport is set to open in 2012 and will have the capacity to accommodate 25 million passengers with room to grow by 2015 and there are also plans to build a metro system for Doha;
  • While the global economic crisis saw international tourist nights decline from 1.2 million to 952,000 from 2007 to 2009, the total number of tourist arrivals to Qatar increased from 964,000 to 1.1 million over the same period. Particularly promising is the growing number of tourists coming from outside the Middle East. Qatar has become a more popular destination for Europeans, who accounted for 16.3% of arrivals in 2004 but represented 33.1% of visitors by 2009;
  • Qatar increased the number of business travellers to the country despite the 2008-2009 economic crisis. Future investments such as the Doha Convention Centre and Towers – due to open in 2012 – will accommodate the growing number of business tourists, which is forecast to jump from 0.9 million in 2009 to 1.6 million by 2014.
Tourist arrivals to Qatar by purpose: 2004-2014
‘000 people

Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics.

Prospects

  • Tourist arrivals to Qatar are forecast to reach 1.8 million in 2014, with the number of business visits increasing at an average annual rate of 11.9% over 2009-2014. The Qatar Tourism Authority estimates 40 new hotels and around 7,000 rooms to open in 2010-2011;
  • Tourist spending is dependent upon the vitality of the global economy. While European business visitors represent growth potential, Qatar’s tourist industry could be hampered by economic troubles in Europe;
  • Many large Qatari companies and financing vehicles are looking to invest in the tourism sector, which will enable its growth. Qatar Airways plans to open its first airport hotel in June 2010;
  • In early 2010, the government implemented a law removing the 49% limit to allow full foreign ownership in tourism and other sectors, which should help increase foreign direct investment in the country. In April 2010 the government suspended plans for visa requirements for citizens of 33 countries including the UK and USA after objections from airlines and other tourism-dependent businesses.
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