Qatar's tourism market is growing steadily and proving to be a driver for economic growth. With a 7% increase in tourists from 2015 to 2016 and some USD45 billion dedicated to its National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030, Qatar anticipates major growth in visitors in the coming years.
In the first three quarters of 2016, Qatar attracted 2.18 million visitors, a 7% increase on 2015. Of these visitors, the bulk—surpassing some 1 million—came from GCC countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. Nearly 750,000 Saudi Arabians visited Qatar during this time, marking an 8% increase on 2015. Visitor growth from the third quarter of 2015 to the third quarter of 2016 was also witnessed in the UAE (17%), Bahrain (3%) and Kuwait (2%).
At the Arabian Travel Market event in 2017, Qatar revealed its goal to reach 10 million annual visitors by 2030, generating USD17.8 billion and accounting for 5.2% of its GDP. This would not only generate income, but also create 98,000 jobs and encompass 63,000 total hotel rooms. By 2020, Qatar is targeting 4 million visitors annually.
To achieve this goal, Qatar has earmarked USD45 billion in new developments as part of its National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030. Some USD2.3 billion of this investment will be devoted to World Cup facilities and a complementary USD6.9 billion to infrastructure and relevant developments.
According to the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), by 2026 the tourism sector will amount to QAR81.2 billion, or 7.3% of the GDP, and will account for 8.6% of the country’s total funding. This is a substantial rise from the current situation. In 2015, tourism contributed QAR48.5 billion to the country’s GDP and comprised 2.2% of the country’s total funding. The QTA hopes that these drivers will induce an increase in both leisure and business spending, reaching QAR44.9 billion and QAR17.5 billion, respectively, by 2026.
Qatar’s visitor numbers are growing the fastest relative to other countries in the region, with 11.5% visitor growth since 2010. Qatar’s Hamad International Airport witnessed 20% growth in its passenger traffic in 2016, with 37.3 million passengers. In 2015, this number was 30 million.
Qatar Airways is largely to credit for this increase. In its year ending in March 2017, the airline registered a 22% growth in income to QAR1.97 billion—revenue had increased 10% to QAR38.9 billion. Over the year, Qatar Airways had introduced 10 new destinations and increased the passengers it carried from 26.6 million to 32 million. In 2017, Qatar Airways hopes to acquire its first Airbus SE A350-1000 and add 29 A350-900s and 37 A350-1000s in the coming five years. Meanwhile, the airline is making headlines. In February 2017, it launched the world’s longest commercial flight, a Boeing 777 flying from Doha, Qatar to Auckland, New Zealand—a 14,535-km distance with a scheduled time of 17 hours and 30 minutes.
Qatar also welcomes cruise ships and in 2017 saw its first docking of two cruise ships simultaneously at the Doha Port, unleashing 3,000 tourists into Doha and toward tourist attractions. In the 2015/16 cruise season, 10 ships docked in Doha Port, a 100% increase on the 2014/15 season. Three ships made their maiden voyages to Qatar in the 2015/16 season, while two-thirds of passengers disembarked and more than 4,000 people were issued visas.
In the 2016/17 season, which spanned from October 2016 to April 2017, Qatar predicted a 1,000% increase in cruise passenger tourists. During the season, 32 cruise ships confirmed arrival at Qatar’s ports with some 50,000 passengers total. This indicates a more than three-fold increase in the number of cruise ships arriving in Qatar. Doha Port is undergoing renovations to become exclusively a cruise terminal and touristic attraction.
In May 2016, QTA announced that it will partner with German cruise line TUI Cruises to add the cruise liner to its 2017/18 roster, which will result in the arrival of some seven cruise ships with up to 17,500 visitors. Qatar hopes to reach 250,000 cruise visitors in 2017.
Qatar is a peninsula that covers approximately 6,286sqkm on the western shore of the Arabian Gulf. It is covered with arid deserts and a long Arabian Gulf shoreline of beaches and dunes. The majority, some 92%, of its 2.2 million population lives in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which is situated on the coast and is decked with skyscrapers and modern architecture.
Qataris can be divided into three groups: Bedouin, Hadar, and Alabd. The Bedouin were nomads of the Arabian Peninsula, the Hadar trace their origins as town dwellers as far back as the 18th century, and the Alabd are descendants of slaves from East Africa. Qatar’s culture is mostly influenced by the Bedouin heritage. Muslims comprise nearly 70% of the population, and Islam is the official state religion. Christians and Hindus make up nearly 14% of the population each. Qatari men wear long white shirts, or thawbs, with a loose headdress, or gbutra. Women were long black dresses, or abaya, and cover their heads with shayla and may also cover their faces with a burqa.
For decades, Qataris have been a minority in their own country and received hundreds of new foreign residents daily. Its role as a tourist attraction is increasingly promising. In and around Doha, visitors frequent the Museum of Islamic Art, Souq Waqif marketplace, Al Thakhira beach, Aqua and Aspire parks, Doha Corniche boulevard, and desert marvel Khor Al Udaid.
Qatar’s Eid celebrations are one focal point of attractions. For the summer festivities, QTA organizes folklore games, entertainment, contests, crafts, performances, fireworks, heritage exhibitions, and concerts. The 2017 events kick off in late June, continue into early September, and coincide with shopping promotions as well as hotel and spa deals.
The Doha Festival City also pulls visitors. As the largest entertainment and retail destination in Qatar, Doha Festival City targets 20-22 million visitors per year and works closely with QTA in reaching its goal.
Cultural Village Foundation Katara’s general manager HE Dr. Khalid bin Ibrahim Al Sulaiti spoke to TBY about Qatar’s largest multidimensional culture project’s role in contributing to the Emirate’s role as a cultural hub in the Middle East; “Katara includes a massive number of centers and societies, such as the Al-Bahie Auction House, Qatar Fine Arts Association, Katara Art Studios, and the Youth Hobbies Center. Katara sponsors many events that are in line with its vision pertaining to cultural work, which is provided to various centers and societies. In addition, Katara hosts many cultural events in collaboration with various embassies in Qatar, such as Roots (Latin American Festival) and the European Jazz Festival.”