Fancy A Holiday in Qatar, Anyone?
Qatar has been working hard to promote itself as an attractive destination. But is it working, and is it worth going?
Growth in Travel
Anyone who has been in Qatar for long will have noticed the extraordinary growth in buildings, many of them hotels. Sometimes it seems that every time you turn your back a building shoots up behind you. (Unlike in the public sector, private construction is super fast.) This growth in infrastructure has been matched by a growth in population, much of it expatriate or transient.
Obviously, with all the extra people coming into the country there is increasing pressure on Doha's airport, and sometimes it seems there is barely room to stand. And it is going to get busier. Not only is Qatar Airways expanding at a phenomenal rate, planning to double the number of planes it has by 2015, there is also an ever increasing number of airways flying to Qatar. (See the full list of airlines that fly to Qatar at the end of the article including some that you've probably never heard of before.)
Qatar is responding by both increasing the size of its existing airport, and by building a multi-billion dollar new airport which will cover 2,200 hectares (8.5 square kilometres) of land, some of it reclaimed from the sea. This new airport will be able to handle millions more travellers a year.
Getting the People to Come
How is Qatar going to get all these travellers to come? Well, it is conveniently placed, although Qatar Airways claim that Qatar is the centre of the world might be a slight exaggeration. (Qatar Airways also claims Qatar will change your life. Hmm.) There are some great stopover deals available, and it is promoting itself as a place for conferences with its MICE.
Is It Working?
Sort of. Qatar had 900,000 tourists last year, and expect 1,500,000 million in 2010. At least they call them tourists - many are probably visiting firends or relatives here.
Is It Worth a Visit, Then?
For a few days, yes. There's actually quite a lot you can do including dune bashing, game fishing, scuba diving, sand boarding and sailing. And you can bet your life Qatar will keep on adding to what's here. See their flashy website for what's on (and see if you can work out the difference between coming events and future events! And past events, for that matter.)
What About Sport?
There is a huge emphasis on sports, despite (or perhaps because of) Qatar's growing obesity problem. The 2007 Asian Games are only one example of this. Not only are most of these events free or very reasonable (50 riyals for the world super bike racing, for example), you can also win prizes.
Qatar Airways has superb service. (The wine's nice too). As it keeps reminding us, it's a five-star airline. If you are flying direct to Doha, however, it is not always the cheapest personally, I use Gulf Air when I pay for my own flights, but I am a cheapskate. As ever, you need to look around and discover the best deal. (See below for Expedia links).
The Privilege Club
If you are living in Qatar (and that often means free flights on Qatar Airways) you should definitely join Qatar Airways privilege club. In addition to air miles, you also earn other bonuses like extra baggage, admission to the business lounge and priority upgrades.
Qatar still has a lot to do. Last weekend I went off in search of the burial mounds in Umm Salal Ali. There were no signs, and the locals denied all knowledge of their existence. On the way back (having admitted defeat) we stopped to see a fort in Um Salal Mohammed. Although the fort had been refurbished (read knocked down and rebuilt) and was open, again there was no guide, no information and no exhibits, only an empty porta cabin.
It was not a wasted journey we saw a different side of Qatar, dustier and more run-down with camels in make shift pens but it's not very impressive for a country which is trying to develop its tourism industry.
Nevertheless, Doha is trying to follow in the footsteps of Dubai, and certainly has the money and resources to do so. Watch out world, there is a small, flat desert country out to make a name for itself.
Full List of Airlines that Fly to Qatar
American Airlines, Air Arabia, Air India, Biman: Bangladeshi Airlines, British Airways, DHL, Egypt Air, Emirates, Gulf Air, Iran Air, Iran Aseman Airlines, KLM, Kuwait Airways, Lufthansa, Martinair, MEA, Oman Air, PIA, Royal Jordanian, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Shaheen Air International, Sri Lankan Airlines, Sudan Airways, Syrian Arab Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, Yemenia
Passports must be valid for six months after the date of return. Exit visas are not required.
Book Air Tickets to QatarFrom Europe with Air France