At ITB Berlin you can feel the growing acceleration behind key industry trends. Firstly, technology and the Internet continue to push travel into new territories, changing the way we work and the way our customers buy. From a special matchmaking event with bloggers to the largest range of travel technology anywhere, ITB Berlin 2013 is embracing technology like never before. Secondly, the growing interest in what were niche markets, such as adventure travel, responsible tourism, or gay and lesbian travel, has propelled them into the mainstream. And finally, demand from new fast-growing markets in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East is highlighted in this exclusive interview with Issa M. Al Mohannadi, Chairman of the Tourism Authority of Qatar, the country which currently has the world’s fastest-growing economy.
The Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) is leading the Qatar delegation at ITB Berlin, in a new state-of-the-art Qatar Pavilion featuring design and features that reflect the organization’s new vision to promote and develop the tourism industry in Qatar. HE Eng. Issa M. Al Mohannadi, Chairman of Qatar Tourism Authority, told ITB Berlin News Editor-in-chief Richard Barnes that development of tourism infrastructure is a key goal of his country’s government.
As you know, Qatar has been selected to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Part of the commitment to this concerned the improvement of our infrastructure. We have an advanced road system and a large bus network. A rail system is currently under construction, and on April 1 we will inaugurate the new airport for commercial airlines – a new facility to be commissioned in several phases. We visited the airport last month, and I can tell you it is truly state-of-the-art. Qatar Airways itself is one of the fastest-growing airlines in the world, with over 120 destinations, and this is, of course, part of the tourism infrastructure, as well as the hotel chains coming to Doha, and the new stadiums being built as part of the sport infrastructure. So all of these, if you add them together, make up a good sound infrastructure for tourism in a country like Qatar.
The figures were very positive for you in 2012. Could you tell me a little more?
All indications of growth are positive when it comes to tourism statistics. The number of visitors toDoha has increased, and the number of hotel rooms has significantly grown. And even though the number of rooms has increased, occupancy rates are nevertheless around 4-5% higher. We are definitely going in the right direction and are very pleased with the 2012 figures. Qatar has become an obvious choice as a safe family destination. Among the neighburing countries, Qatar has positioned itself strongly as the best choice for families as it is calm and safe. The country itself is culturally rich, the identity is strong. Tourism in Qatar has an authentic feeling, and we have been very careful to preserve our cultural heritage. For example, the Souk Waqif, the old souk, has been renovated while retaining its heritage. There are five-star local chains that have built boutique hotels here utilizing the old buildings, and converting them for hotel use. This, along with the way the souk has been reconstructed is an example of our authentic products in Qatar. Another example is the Katara cultural village, bringing cultures together in one place. These kinds of projects really promote and position Qatar differently to neighburing countries. We are not mimicking tourist projects. These are home grown ideas uniquely for Qatar, and they give an authentic experience for people coming to visit. Once our tourism master plan and strategy has been implemented, you will see a complete product offering an authentic experience to those who want to visit this destination. This doesn’t mean we don’t have the “city” feel. We have the QNCC, which has over 40,000 sq m of exhibition area, and is built with the latest technologies. The DCC is another new convention center that is coming into the pipeline by early 2014, and it will have 45,000 sq m of floor space. So while we are offering an authentic destination, we are also very strongly promoting business tourism. In terms of urban development, you can see new shopping malls, and new areas such at the Pearl Qatar, there are mixed use developments coming on line, and new downtown developments are under way in Doha. The visitor to Qatar will have a totally different experience than in any other neighboring country.
With the new airport will there be more links to Europe?
Yes, definitely. We hope specifically to open new routes to Germany. I know Qatar Airways is working hard to develop routes, but we need support and help from the German government to allow Qatar Airways to expand in this country, with more connections and more frequent flights to Germany, because it’s an important market for us. Like this we can promote weekend stays or stopover, so instead of people just passing through the airport, they can stop for three or four nights in Qatar and see what it has to offer.
How important is ITB Berlin for Qatar in terms of international promotion?
It’s important for us, because the European market is key for us. Germany is definitely an important market for us, as are France, the UK, and indeed most of the European countries. We have very good commercial relations with Germany and it makes good sense to build on this and to make an offering for those who come for business also to enjoy the time with their families in tourist activities. The attraction of the sun and beaches in Qatar is a major one for European tourists. So ITB Berlin is a particularly important show for us. This year, we have a bigger stand, and it’s the first year we have brought along more than 30 partners with us. We also have 3 major governmental authorities – the Qatar Museum Authority, the Minister of Culture, and also Katara. This shows that we are committed to ITB Berlin.
What is your message to the tour operators and travel agents from around the globe that are here at ITB Berlin?
I would like them to get in touch with our tour operators. It’s a great opportunity for them to make good connections with our tour operators and travel agencies, to build connections, and to facilitate more tourists coming to visit Qatar. Also, from a business point of view we would like to see more investment from Europe in Qatar, in terms of bringing tour operators or travel agencies together, and this will allow for better representation for the local markets here in Qatar. The partners are here at the show, and I would encourage all TOs to come and talk to them, to enhance the relations and cooperation between the two sides.
ETurboNews is a media partner for ITB Berlin.