TOUR DE FORCE

Qatar 2016 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hassan Abdulrahman Al Ibrahim, Chief Tourism Development Officer at the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), on boosting the tourism sector and its role in the economy.

How would you describe the performance of Qatar's tourism sector and its role in Qatar's economy as a whole?

Tourism is a major catalyst for Qatar's socio-economic growth. Not only does it contribute to expanding the economy, attracting investors, and creating jobs, it also supports the development of a national brand on the international stage, encouraging intellectual dialogue and the breaking down of barriers between peoples around the world. In a country heavily reliant on its hydrocarbon wealth, tourism is playing a pivotal role in diversifying Qatar's economy, in turn shielding it from market infatuations that can impact its growth and sustainability in the long term. Last year once again showed promising results for Qatar's tourism sector. The numbers of both international and regional visitors have been on the rise. Visitors' numbers from the neighboring GCC markets have increased. This follows the establishment of QTA's GCC representative office there in 2014 and reflects the various trade and consumer-centric joint promotions, the Qatar annual calendar of festivals, events, and other initiatives launched to attract visitors. Moreover, the country witnessed a rise in overall hotel occupancy due to the various events, festivals, and conferences taking place. All in all, these positive results put Qatar on track in helping it achieve its goal of 7 million visitors by 2030.

Describe the way that QTA interfaces with private sector industry stakeholders to support and develop this important sector?

As the custodian and regulator of the tourism industry in Qatar, an industry that encompasses a wide range of stakeholders, both from the public sector and the private sector, as well as civil society, QTA has been successfully coordinating with different entities on the development and implementation of various programs, projects, and regulations. For example, The National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030 was developed following a nation-wide consultative process through which QTA was able to gather the input and feedback for a wide range of stakeholders that contributed to its successful development, be they ministries, public entities, policy advocating bodies, private-sector entities, industry professionals, or journalists and opinion leaders. The Strategy also took into account the need to ensure that the type of tourism that it will promote will be fully in line and will respect local traditions and local norms. Another example is our latest partnership with Qatar Development Bank (QDB) and its incubation center (QBIC) to provide QBIC Tourism, a specialized incubator that will enable entrepreneurs to develop products and services to enhance the Qatar tourism experience by providing them with unique tools and access guidance and feedback from decision-makers and mentors. Through QBIC Tourism, QTA will provide guidance to entrepreneurs to support them as they introduce creative business ideas to the market that enrich visitors experience across various areas, including business events, luxury and leisure, culture and heritage products, and family recreation.

How would you describe QTA's strategic approach toward attracting international visitors and which regions of the world pose the most opportunity for growth?

The guiding principle behind Qatar's tourism development strategy is quality, authenticity, and sustainability. We place top priority on ensuring that tourism growth is fully compatible with Qatar's cultural, social, and environmental integrity. We aim to build on our traditional strengths in the GCC leisure market and in business tourism, while placing increased emphasis on diversifying into new areas, with a focus on the major European source markets such as the UK, Germany, France, and Italy. That said, we will also continue to focus on the rapidly emerging markets of China, the Far East, and India, and have plans to penetrate these regions within the coming years. To complement our market focus, we are mindful of specific segments that cross geographical boundaries as identified in Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030. A major target group, namely those that embrace sophisticated, experienced travelers actively seeking new cultural experiences and families, whether from neighboring countries or overseas, are strategically considered in all areas of tourism development. We further remain interested in niche markets including special sports tourism, culture, and education. Qatar's Aspire Zone has an outstanding infrastructure for all types of sports-related tourism, including winter training camps and pre-tournament coaching and team building initiatives. With its extensive purpose-built indoor and outdoor training facilities, sports medicine clinics, sports academics, and all the other support services, the zone offers an ideal environment to attract this healthy type of business. Aspire Zone complements the many world class sporting infrastructure in place.

The MICE and business sector is an important proposition within the QTA strategic focus. What is your view on the growth potential of this sector with the development of state-of-the-art venue/facilities that Qatar offers?

Qatar is solidly carving for itself a place on the global map as a premium destination for business events. With the country's plans to increase the number of visitors by 20% within the next five years, we believe that developing a strong business events sector will help the country achieve these numbers, and will enhance Qatar's ability to develop a sustainable tourism sector. In 2015, the number of exhibitions rose by 40% with Qatar hosting 50 exhibitions in different sectors including fashion, real estate, education, and medicine. We expect another rise in the number of exhibition to reach 85 exhibitions and a rise in visitors by 5% in the coming year. The success that the business events sector has been enjoying is due to the luxurious, first-class, state-of-the-art venues available in Qatar. In the coming months, the new Doha Exhibition center will be opening its doors to all event organizers and will host its first event in November 2015. These numbers show us that our strategy to triple the number of visitors to Qatar by 2030 is well underway and that 2016 will see more efforts en route to achieving this aim.

What are your expectations for the coming period?

The National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030 will help expand and reinforce the tourism sector in a way to allow the country to continue on its path of development well into the future. In this regard, the strategy will promote a greater role for the private sector in spearheading tourism related initiatives and plans, will enhance the country's tourism human capital through specialized academic and training programs, and will ensure that all tourism promotional efforts are well-targeted and rolled out in a well-planned manner according to unambiguous and quantifiable parameters. Furthermore, the strategy will provide a clear direction on the future of the industry in Qatar, as well as offer a series of regulations that can empower and render the tourism sector more competitive, benefiting the industry as a whole. Furthermore, the National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030 sets clear targets and objectives to achieve by 2030, whether in terms of the numbers of tourists that Qatar can expect and their breakdown and distribution, the number of hotel rooms to be made available, the number of jobs to be created, the contribution of the tourism sector to the country's GDP, or the planned projects to be set across all areas of Qatar, including the 25 high impact programs already identified in the strategy. Many of the programs and projects set in the National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030 will have a long-term positive implications on Qatar and all Qataris. But at the same time, the strategy will also have short and medium-term objectives that will allow Qataris to feel a real difference in their daily lives within a relatively short time span, whether in terms of greater opportunities for leisure and entertainment, an improved infrastructure, more hotels and restaurants, and increased global awareness of Qatar's rich cultural heritage and traditions.