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How Qatar plans to keep growing its post-World Cup tourism

How Qatar plans to keep growing its post-World Cup tourism
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Fifa World Cup 2022 host Qatar aims to increase tourism through more sports, arts and other events, and medical tourism

Qatar plans to liberalise its hospitality industry to build on the record number of tourists thronging the nation since it hosted the Fifa World Cup, in 2022.

“We will try to liberate the hospitality sector and remove any obstacles,” Saad bin Ali Al Kharji, the chairman of Qatar Tourism, said in an interview in Dubai last week. “We have many restrictions on hotels regarding operating hours and licensing.”

The Persian Gulf nation’s tourism industry has defied predictions of a hard landing after the quadrennial tournament, on which it splurged more than US$300 billion. It welcomed four million visitors in 2023, a 39 per cent increase over the World Cup year.

This year has also started on a strong note, with capital Doha clocking a record 700,000 visitors in January, as it hosted the AFC Asian Cup football tournament, Al Kharji said.

Argentina celebrate winning the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar. Photo: Xinhua

The city’s hotels, which have 39,000 rooms, had an occupancy rate of 75 per cent in the first quarter of 2024, according to the authority.

About 44 per cent of tourists came from neighbouring Gulf nations, he said, while arrivals from Europe, the United States and Asia have also surged.

The nation of about 2.5 million wields outsize influence in the global sporting arena. In addition to hosting the Middle East’s first football World Cup, it owns a majority stake in Paris Saint-Germain – one of France’s top football clubs.

It also has a permanent spot on the Formula One racing calendar under a 10-year deal that started in 2023.

The opening of the Web Summit Qatar 2024 in Doha, Qatar. It brought 17,000 people to the city in February. Photo: Getty Images

While the sporting events have helped draw thousands of fans, Al Kharji said Qatar is now aiming to lure families, medical tourists and business travellers with a line-up of conferences and exhibitions.

Qatar will host the Geneva International Motor Show in Doha every two years over the next decade. The 2023 edition was the first time the high-profile event was held outside Switzerland.

Al Kharji said the Web Summit, which brought 17,000 people to the city in February, will be held in Qatar for the next four years.

The gas-rich nation is also rolling out an increasingly busy calendar of art, design and fashion events as part of the push to reach its target of 6 million international visitors annually by 2030, almost three times the number in 2019.

Tourists ride camels in a desert near Doha during the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. Photo: AFP

Qatar wants the tourism industry to contribute 12 per cent to its gross domestic product by 2030. Its regional peers, too, have similar ambitions.

The United Arab Emirates – of which the Middle East’s tourist hub Dubai is a part – aims to raise the sector’s contribution to its GDP to US$122 billion by 2031, while Saudi Arabia is investing US$1 trillion to promote itself as a destination.

“The World Cup affected the whole region and we see the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] as one destination,” Al Kharji said, when asked about the growing competition among Gulf countries for tourists.

Qatar recently partnered with Saudi Arabia for a “double your discovery” campaign that allows visitors to explore both countries in a single trip. A new, Schengen-style visa, which will grant tourists access to all six GCC nations, is in the final stages of approval.

“Every nation in the GCC is growing its tourism, and we will complement each other,” he said.

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