A Qatar Guide for Tourists and Residents
Home   Qatar   Doha   Contact   Qatar Jobs   Qatar Map   Request

Monday, October 16, 2006

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’s 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).

New airport

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 punters to come

How is Qatar going to get all these travellers to come? Well, it is conveniently placed, although its claim to be the centre of the world might be a slight exaggeration. (It 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 through its MICE. (No, it doesn’t use small furry rodents as diplomats – it’s an acronym for meeting, incentives, conferences and exhibitions). It’s also increasingly liberal (i.e. easy to get a drink). The shopping is fantastic, and at the moment it can still be very good value for money - see my article on A Night with a Whirling Dervish!

Is it working?

You bet! There isn’t an empty hotel in the place, even though they keep sticking up more. Last year saw 600,000 tourists (Qatar Tourism Authority) and Qatar hopes to more than double that by 2010.

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’s a huge emphasis on sports, despite (or perhaps because of) Qatar’s growing obesity problem. The coming 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.

Which airline?

Qatar Airways has superb service. (The wine’s nice too). As it keeps reminding us, it’s a five-star airline. If you’re flying direct to Doha, however, it’s not always the cheapest – personally, I use Gulf Air when I pay for my own flights, but I’m a cheapskate. As ever, you need to look around and suss out the best deal. (See below for Travel Advisor and 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.

The Future

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 wasn’t 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’s a small, flat desert country out to make a name for itself.

See also:

Qatar Travel

Qatar Visas

Visa Services

Cheap flights to Qatar

Search for flights

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