Game on

Qatar is establishing itself as a destination for business, leisure and sports. This year, the long-awaited Asian Games will take place in Doha, an event that will no doubt significantly increase demand for hotel accommodation. Hotelier Middle East looks at how well the country is equipped to cope

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By  Sarah Gain Published  August 1, 2006

|~|Photo1-DohaL.gif|~|The Ritz-Carlton, Doha|~|Over the last two years, the Middle East hotel market has consistently outperformed both its Asian and European counterparts and although the rate of growth in the region appears now to be slowing, the best may be still to come for Qatar as the country gears up to host the Asian Games in December this year. According to the Deloitte & Touche Hotel Benchmark report into hotel performance for May, while Dubai predictably remains the region’s top performer, Doha has managed to push its average room rates up 28% to US $240, taking it to second place in the hotel market league table. HVS International’s findings seem to tally with those of Deloitte and in its Middle East Hotel Markets Report 2006, HVS found that in 2005, RevPAR in Doha registered an impressive 43% increase on that of 2004, rising to $150. The researchers attributed this increase primarily to the outstanding growth in average room rate in the city which, stimulated by the opening of the Four Seasons in early 2005, grew 45%, offsetting a slight decline in occupancy. According to HVS’ assessment, this boom had an accelerated impact on market-wide GOPPAR (gross operating profit per available room), which increased from $119 in 2004 to $173 in 2005. The strong trading performance of the market has enabled hotel values in Doha and investment value in the Qatari capital topped $400,000 per room, as of January 2006, HVS says. “Business has been booming in Doha,” agrees The Ritz-Carlton, Doha’s director of sales, Raki Phillips. “Sectors such as the government ministries, oil and gas, and the corporate market are our main markets, but the country’s new focus is on sports, and this has increased demand into Qatar as a destination, and to Doha in particular.” Qatar already hosts more than 80 international sports events every year, including the Golf Masters, the Qatar Tennis Open and the Motor Grand Prix, but this year, the country will be firmly in the spotlight when it plays host to the 15th Asian Games, which will be held from December 1-15. “The government is pumping millions of dollars into upgrading the airports and other facilities, and they are investing in global advertising to increase interest in the destination,” says Phillips. “The hosting of the Asian Games is showcasing Qatar to the international world,” he adds. “With new projects such as the Aspire Sports Academy and the development of state-of-the-art sports facilities like the Khalifa Stadium, the government is being very supportive of the development of the country as a leading tourism destination for the region.” With 10,500 athletes and team officials from 45 countries across Asia descending on Doha to compete in 40 sports events, the Asian Games is second only to the Olympics as a global, multi-sport event. National carrier Qatar Airways is running a promotional campaign linked to the event, with a fleet of branded aircraft carrying the message of the 2006 Asian Games around the world. Meanwhile, in preparation for the Games, work has begun on a number of multi-million dollar projects, which aim to bringing Doha’s infrastructure up to standard, with investment in everything from new roads to new hotels and leisure facilities. “By the time the Games take place, over 30 sports facilities will be in place and 14 stadiums will have been built. The Asian Games will enable Qatar to host more international sport events in the coming years through the amazing infrastructure that it will leave behind,” says Ranya Abu-Sharar, head of communications for Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA). “In order to accommodate the thousands of guests and participants of the Asian Games, and the high demand on Qatar as a high quality destination for sports in the future, many more hotels will be opening by the end of the year,” she adds. Qatar currently has around 3000 rooms in the four- and five-star sectors, according to the QTA. However, the country’s relative small size and population means that the government’s focus has traditionally been on niche, high net-worth markets, such as business travel and the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) market as opposed to mass tourism, and the country’s hotel and conference facilities have matured significantly over recent years, to be able to accommodate events of all types and sizes. Within easy reach of Europe, Asia, North Africa and the rest on the region, and with direct flight links to most major airports through Qatar Airways, the country’s economic and commercial expansion also makes Qatar an ideal market for the MICE industry and the infrastructure to support this is now well-developed. With its assortment of luxury hotels, Qatar is now able to host business meetings, incentive groups, conferences and exhibitions in surroundings that combine state-of-the-art facilities with superlative service and a wide variety of incentive offerings. “Doha is great for shopping and has wonderful, traditional souqs as well as the more upscale shops, and the city also has several large parks, museums, a zoo, and an Arabian stud farm at Al Shaqab,” says Christiane Gaul, PR manager for the Sheraton Doha Hotel & Resort. “For those wishing to explore more of Qatar’s past, there are trips to Al Khor, where ruins of an ancient mosque can be found. Qatar is also well-known for its inland sea, which offers a spectacular sight as it flows through the centre of the desert like an enormous river, with 60-metre-high sand dunes along its shores and, being surrounded by water, diving and snorkelling are also very popular activities,” she adds. A variety of international companies now regularly choose Qatar as a venue for conferences and incentives, and with 28 meeting rooms, 7400m² of conference space and 3000m² of exhibition space available, the Sheraton Doha Hotel & Resort derives most of its business from the group business and corporate sectors, with visitors mainly originating from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. The hotel has also hosted a number of major international conferences. “As a convention centre, the hotel has the largest and most comprehensively equipped facilities in the country. In fact, it can hold up to 3000 people and is one of the largest of its kind in the entire Middle East,” claims Gaul. “We have had the privilege to host events such as the FIFA Extraordinary Congress in 2003, the WTTC Summit in 2004, the G77 Conference in 2005 and the World Telecommunication Development Conference in 2006.” As well as playing host to its share of high-profile business and governmental conferences, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha has also been the venue for events such as the Tour de Qatar cycling event, and the charity event Reach Out for Asia. The hotel is busy all year round with this type of event and, according to Laura Haucke, the hotel’s director of catering and conference services, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha specialises in delivering personalised service to conference guests. “We have a huge function area with two ballrooms, which can hold a total of 1100 pax, and we have a number of meeting rooms, all kitted out with audiovisual and technical equipment,” Haucke says. “The clients nowadays are well travelled and they know what they want. The expectations of the clientele here in Doha are getting increasingly higher, and with all the new hotels set to open this year, and in the years to come, the marketplace is beginning to get increasingly competitive,” she adds. Indeed, several new builds are scheduled to be completed just in time for the Asian Games, such as the new Sharq Village & Spa, which will be managed by The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Unlike The Ritz-Carlton, Doha, the Sharq Village will be hoping to attract business from Qatar’s newly-emerging leisure market. The waterfront hotel, due to open later this year, will have 174 rooms and suites and will feature a 6643m² Six Senses spa in the style of a Qatari souq, with a menu of services inspired by centuries-old recipes. Additional recreational features at Sharq Village & Spa will include two swimming pools and the close proximity of a championship golf course, but for those visitors wishing to combine pleasure with business, the resort will also be fully equipped to meet the needs of business travellers, with wireless capability throughout. “Qatar is well known for its impressive buildings with contemporary architecture. In a novel contrast, Sharq Village & Spa will stand out as a memorable experience for visitors seeking a destination resort with historic accents,” says Simon Cooper, president and chief operating officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. In contrast, many of the new hotels planned for Qatar in the not-too-distant future will continue to play to the country’s more traditional strengths, appealing to the corporate travel sector. Millennium Hotels & Resorts, for instance, has signed a management contract for the group’s first hotel in Qatar. The new, 218-room, five-star Millennium hotel in Doha is due to open in September of this year as part of the company’s plans to develop 35 hotels in the Middle East and North Africa region over the next five years. “We believe that we can add a lot to the market, having a combination of both eastern and western philosophies, backed with a strong local management,” says Ali Hamad Lakhraim, president of Millennium Hotels & Resorts for the Middle East and Africa. Another company turning its attentions to Qatar’s business travel market is Bavaria Hotels International (BHI), which announced in May that it plans to introduce its mid-market, all-suite hotel model by the beginning of 2007. The Bavaria City Suites Doha, with 2200 suites and studios, is scheduled to open during the first quarter of 2007 and will feature studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom suites. “The hotel will offer Bavaria’s brand of combined business, leisure and family facilities, with a business and meetings centre; a fitness club and Angsana Spa, and an extensive kids club,” describes Thomas Gertz, CEO of BHI. “The hotel will continue Bavaria Hotels International’s trend of large, all-suite hotel properties, and represents a quality development in this key growth market,” he adds. Perhaps the most keenly anticipated newcomer to Qatar’s hotel market so far, however, is W Hotels. It was announced in June that Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, W’s parent company, is entering into an agreement with J&A Jaidah, principals of J&A Jaidah Holdings, to manage the new property in the Qatari capital. The W Doha Hotel & Residences, the brand’s second hotel planned for the Middle East, is scheduled for the end of 2007. Located in Doha’s West Bay on the Qatar peninsula, W Doha will feature 292 guest rooms, including 31 suites and 154 W Residences. President of W Hotels Worldwide, Ross Klein, says that W Doha will offer “a level of design, energy and style that does not yet exist in Qatar”, with its multiple signature restaurants, a poolside outdoor shisha lounge, champagne bar, event space, and luxury retail space. The hotel will also offer the ‘living room’ experience for which the brand is best known, and the trademark Whatever/Whenever 24-hour concierge service, which can provide whatever guests want, from a pair of running shoes to private jet service, whenever they want it, will ensure that the needs of today’s increasingly demanding travellers are met, according to Roeland Vos, president of Starwood Europe, Africa & Middle East. “W Doha is a wonderful step for the W brand in an incredibly exciting and dynamic region,” he states. The opening of leading luxury hotels such as these, and the large number of other major construction projects currently underway in the country, serve to clearly illustrate the pace at which Qatar’s tourism industry and infrastructure is developing at present. A considerable number of hotel rooms are likely to enter the market over the next few years, but will demand continue to keep up with the increasing supply once the excitement of the Asian Games is over? HVS International is doubtful: while the experts anticipate that a strong trading performance may continue, in the Middle East Hotel Markets Report 2006, the researchers indicate that hotel values will drop from 2007 onwards if levels of hotel demand do not match the amount of new hotel supply entering the market. However, the QTA is more optimistic and, having witnessed tourist arrivals in 2005 reach more than 600,000, the tourism authority is predicting that growth in the sector will continue to be strong. It is targeting around 1.4 million tourists by the year 2010, and Jan Paul De Boer, acting director general of QTA, is confident that this figure will be achieved. “There has been great progress and development in the tourism sector of the country, and there is no reason to doubt that this will continue for years to come,” he says. “The annual forecasted growth for tourism of 4.1% per year until the end of this decade means that the future will be very bright.”||**||

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