400% MEDICAL SECTOR GROWTH FROM 2017-2018

Qatar 2020 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Sheikh Jassim Bin Mohamed Al Thani, Vice Chairman of Mohamed Bin Hamad Holding, on new business lines, foreign investment, and the 2022 World Cup.

With health as one of your main business, what are the main companies under this umbrella?

In January 2018, Allegheny International, a Philadelphia-based hospital, came here and started operating Doha Clinic, which has been around for a while. Health is the backbone of our holding company. We have the hospital and clinics, two pharmacies, a medical company which imports and exports medicine. We have Icon Medical, which started in 2013, and is for orthopedics and neurology. We have West Bay Petroleum, which was established in the 1980s to import and export chemicals. We do a lot of business with QP and Baker Hughes. We have hospitality with Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, which was the first hotel we invested in. It is a five-star hotel, unlike most Crowne Plaza hotels, which are usually four star. We have a good occupancy rate, even though the hotels here are suffering from the blockade. We started a Holiday Inn as a four-star hotel where Holiday Inn is usually three star. We have good food and beverage offerings in both hotels, which contributes to the hotel revenue.

What are the new business lines you plan to open in 2019?

By the beginning of next year we will open up a mall, with a high-end Lulu supermarket. They will start operating after they have decorated the mall. We hope for this to open in April 2020. In terms of health, there is a new hospital, which will be next to that mall. We own the whole plot, 1.1 million square meters. It used to be my father's farm. It is the biggest plot close to Doha, so we decided to develop it with the mall first and then the hospital, which will require three years, at least, to build. That will start in 2020. The whole project will be called Abu Sidra City. In 2019, we are not opening any new businesses, as we plan to invest in the stock market, which is now picking up.

Do you see more opportunity of investment inside or outside of Qatar?

If there is a window of opportunity, we will go for it. However, at the moment, we will focus on Doha, as Qatar is a safe place to invest money. You will not get a growth of 50%, but will always get growth of 8%. This is positive compared to the rates of interest you would get from a bank. In the medical sector, we saw growth of around 400% from 2017 to 2018. It is a sector that we know about and where we can succeed.

How will the 2022 World Cup affect these sectors?

Tourism picked up in 2018, as people want to know more about the country set to host the World Cup. We have seen a lot of Europeans coming to visit Doha, especially on cruises. Many people from Turkey and the UK want to come and visit, as they see Qatar advertised everywhere. There is a big integration now with Qatar Airways and the Tourism Authority, which advertise everywhere together. We have Trans Orient air services, which was the first business my father started in the group. The tourism sector is picking up. We see this through Trans Orient as many people are looking for packages and things to do in Doha. We started working on beach and desert experience packages as we have had many requests for this.

How did the blockade affect your business and how did you adapt your model to cope?

The blockade in 2017 came during the low season, which in Qatar is whenever Ramadan falls, and also the summer. The only sector which suffered was the hospitality sector, but this was the low season of tourism and business, so when the blockade came the occupancy rate went down to around 30%. But then it started picking up. We were able to absorb the shock because it happened during the low season, so we lowered our costs and cut our staff, which was a difficult decision, but we had no choice. We have loans to pay, The news of the blockade was absorbed by all businesses, although some are still suffering from low occupancy and low revenue. They need to make decisions to cut their cost. I have seen that with many hotels in West Bay. The occupancy went down to 12% in some hotels.

What are your main plans and expectations for the year ahead?

We are thinking about how we can benefit the most from the World Cup tournament, and other exhibitions happening in Doha. The hospitality sector is going to bounce back for sure. Our main focus will be on the stock market, as we see an opportunity there. At the beginning of 2020, we are going to see that many listed companies will get a boost. The World Cup is coming and the closer we get the occupancy is going up.