• Minor to build in blockaded Qatar

Minor Hotels announced that it will open three new-build hotels in Qatar in spring 2018 under its Tivoli and Oaks brands.

The news came despite the ongoing blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which the country’s tourism body said had “acted as a catalyst to further develop the tourism industry”.

At Minor Hotels, the company will brand three hotels owned by Katara Hospitality.  The Tivoli Al Najada Doha Hotel is in the final stages of development in the centre of the Qatari capital and is due to open in April. One year later the Oaks Hotels & Resorts will make its debut in Qatar with Oaks Al Najada Doha, which will feature 100 serviced apartments.

Dillip Rajakarier, CEO, Minor Hotels, said:“The Middle East is a key growth market for Minor Hotels and we are delighted to be opening two new Tivoli hotels and debuting the Oaks brand in Qatar. We are delivering on our promise when we acquired Tivoli last year to grow the brand within Minor Hotels’ footprint, and we will see the brand grow further. Qatar will be the second GCC country for Oaks, and there is also opportunity to further grow this brand.”

In reporting the country’s visitor figures for the first half, Hassan Al Ibrahim, chief tourism development officer for the Qatar Tourism Agency, said: “Undoubtedly, the diplomatic dispute with three neighbouring countries has had a negative impact on visitor arrivals during the summer months, rendering them slower than usual. However, it has also had a positive impact, acting as a catalyst to further develop the tourism industry, which was already undergoing a strategic shift towards diversifying products, services and source markets.

“Numbers are not the only performance indicator for this sector. While we expected this summer to be slower than usual, due to the ongoing diplomatic dispute, we have been proud to see tourism establishments step up to ensure that all our visitors, wherever they are from, experience the authentic hospitality our country is renowned for. Visitor experience is at the heart of plans for this sector’s development and will continue to be our priority.”

Qatar welcomed 1.46 million visitors in the first six months of 2017, up 1% on the year. The diplomatic dispute imposed on Qatar by three Gulf Cooperation Council countries since 5 June had, the body said, affected arrivals, due to the large share of visitors who are nationals of the countries blockading Qatar. In spite of this, growth from all other regions remained solid, with visitor arrivals from nationals of Europe and the Americas growing by 10% and 7% respectively.

The first half saw three new hotels opening, adding 1,244 rooms to the market. This represented an increase of 5.4% in the number of available rooms in Qatar on the year. As a result of the increase in supply, the occupancy rate fell by 2.8% to 62%.

The first half of the year saw implementing new visa policies including waiving visa requirements for 80 nationalities and launching an online visa application service for visitors of all nationalities. The free, 96-hour transit visa, which was introduced in Q4, 2016, had, the tourism body said, “a notable impact on our visitor numbers with a sizeable increase in stopover passengers”.

The blockade did not deter the UNWTO from hosting its annual World Tourism Day in Doha at the end of September. Qatar took the opportunity to launch the next phase of its tourism strategy, which will see it create a National Tourism Council replacing the QTA and overseeing state support of the sector.

The country is working towards hosting the FIFA World Cup, currently the subject of a corruption trial. Last week, Hassan Al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is overseeing the country’s World Cup preparations, urged the four boycotting nations to allow their nationals to attend the tournament.

HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: Globalisation may have given us Donald Trump, but if you’re a country being blockaded by its neighbours (supported by The Donald), then it opens up a lifeline of visitors from other lands. Brexiteers are no doubt enthused by the example.

Qatar remains determined to make tourism a key driver of GDP, amidst rumours that oil might run out, and making it easier to get into the country through a more liberal visa regime is currently working. Infrastructure investments are also underway, totalling USD45bn up to 2030.

The looming World Cup will be a test of the country’s readiness to become a global destination. Outside whether the neighbours will be allowed to come over to play, there are concerns over human rights violations concerning migrant workers building the facilities and, that most pressing of factors concerning the beautiful game – being able to have a drink during the match. With Budweiser sponsoring, the country will have to work out how far it is prepared to sell out to drive future growth.

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