Going for Gold

The hotel industry in Qatar is under starter’s orders, as international players prepare to compete for a podium finish at the Asian Games

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  August 28, 2005

|~|Sailing--QTA-logoL.jpg|~|Sports tourism is already a big market for Qatar, and looks set to grow further with the Asian Games.|~|It is easy to draw comparisons between the remarkable growth of Qatar, specifically Doha, and a certain infamous nearby emirate. Ambitious offshore projects, glitzy marinas, world-conquering airlines that relentlessly drive tourism: on the surface the similarities seem both obvious and abundant. But Qatar’s progress has a measure of control quite unlike that of Dubai’s, whose tourism policies are more actively aggressive and expansive by comparison. The country has a game plan, and with the 2006 Asian Games it will stage a spectacle that is certain to catapult Doha’s hospitality industry to even greater heights. In an event second only to the Olympics in global sporting magnitude, the Doha Asian Games is set to be the biggest in the competition’s 54-year history. Playing host to 45 countries who will compete in 39 different sporting events, the eyes of over half the world’s population will be glued to Qatar come December 2006. Besides lifting the country into the international spotlight, the games is certain to swell the coffers of Doha’s growing list of hotels. The recently opened Four Seasons Doha, for one, is looking forward to the business. “At Four Seasons we are already working closely with the Asian Games organising committee to ensure a successful event,” explains Simon Casson, general manager, Four Seasons Doha. Furthermore, he believes that Doha is well prepared to cope with the increase in demand. “We see it as a very positive and welcome trend reflecting the confidence that many hotel companies have in Qatar’s current and future potential,” he says. Virtually every hotelier in the city must share this view. “This will be a tremendous marketing push for Qatar, in line with the current growth and development,” agrees Christian El Khoury, director of sales & marketing at the Movenpick Doha. “The improvement of the country’s infrastructure, with new highways, transport systems, hotels and leisure facilities, will pave the way for Qatar to be recognised by the global community as a prominent international destination,” adds Rhoda Adams, marketing & communications manager, Marriott Doha. While the Asian Games is undeniably an ideal catalyst for growth, the question remains: will Doha have enough momentum in the aftermath of the event to weather the inevitable dip in demand? The general consensus is that business will continue. “After the games, the number of people visiting the city for leisure purposes will definitely increase and this will balance the temporary decrease in business,” claims El Khoury. The anticipated growth in leisure tourism is significant, since this is one hospitality avenue that Doha is yet to properly explore. According to the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), the country is well positioned as a preferred destination for regional corporate travellers, but is seeking to expand upon undeveloped markets. “Internationally, the number of visitors continues to grow, especially from the UK and Germany,” says Daniela Grendene, director of marketing and communications at the QTA. “Qatar is already a recognised destination in the sports, education and MICE sectors, but these are markets that we can still further develop and grow, especially at the high-end level. Qatar Airways’ strong expansion in the last 12 months is opening up new markets for us,” she adds. Hotel activity As the latest luxury property to open its doors, Four Seasons Doha is hoping to lead the city’s leisure tourism growth as well as build on an already healthy business trade. “Doha is a predominantly corporate market with significant business driven by the government. The leisure market is still small, but with our enviable location, private beach and luxury spa & wellness centre, we are well positioned to serve this need as it develops,” comments Casson. The arrival of Four Seasons has strengthened competition in the top bracket, previously only occupied by The Ritz-Carlton, Doha. The latter has recently introduced a club lounge to its club level on the 23rd floor, in a bid to push its position as the business traveller’s choice. The Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton competition looks set to provide a healthy marketplace, and strengthen a price hierarchy that will see the top quality hotels benefit most as rates rise. As the standard and the competition heats up at the top, it is a time for Doha’s other five star hotels to shape up, or get left behind. Fast out of the blocks to respond has been the Sheraton Doha. The hotel is currently undergoing major renovation, scheduled for an end of year completion. 2004 saw the renovations of floors three, four and five, with the first and second floors due for treatment this summer, as well as an outdoor makeover. Sheraton has to be quick to secure market share, as 2006 will see openings for Rotana, Sofitel and an Al Fareej resort, followed by 2007 openings for Marriott’s Renaissance and Courtyard brands. Meanwhile, both Marriott and Movenpick are involved in hospitality projects that are set to further diversify Doha’s offering. Marriott will launch its residence brand Marriott Executive Apartments in 2007, while the Movenpick Residence & Suites Doha is also scheduled for completion that year. The 25-storey Movenpick Residence will be situated in the city’s West Bay area, in the heart of the commercial district and 15 minutes from the airport. The majority of the 204 studios and 140 one-bedroom apartments will have kitchenettes, but will also receive 24-hour room service. “Our focus will be on business travellers from local and regional multinationals from the key markets of the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, and European multinational accounts,” says Andreas Mattmuller, senior vice president, Movenpick Hotels & Resorts Middle East. The company’s decision to expand into the residential market was based on the current boom in Doha’s hospitality industry, according to Mattmuller. “Movenpick expects economic progress [in the city] to not only continue but accelerate in the long term, creating a need for medium term accommodation for middle management and executives on assignment for six months to a year,” he comments. If further proof were needed that Doha is the place to be seen if you’re a hotel chain, it is provided by the recent announcement that Jumeirah will manage a property located in the recently launched Dubai Towers. Meanwhile, competition between property developers and architectural firms continues to heat up on Doha’s most high-profile project to date, the US $2.5 billion reclaimed island, the Pearl-Qatar. Positioned as an up-market, ‘Riviera’-style concept, hospitality opportunities are more limited than on Dubai’s Palm island projects. Several of the primary positions have already been purchased, with a private Gulf investor snapping up the islands Marsa Arabia, Viva Centrale and Marsa Malaz for hotel and residential development back in May. With its showpiece project well on-track, Doha thriving and the Asian Games around the corner, Qatar has become a veritable hotel magnet. As occupancies and room rates continue to rise, Doha has proved that there is room for more than one hub in the desert. Hoteliers take note: when the athletes take to the track in 2006, they won’t be the only ones dreaming of gold. ||**||

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