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World Cup to bring opportunities, challenges for Qatar

Qatar: Tuesday, May 24 - 2011 @ 13:08

Winning the rights to host the World Cup in 2022 affords great opportunities as well as potential challenges for Qatar, according to speakers at the Hotel Show in Dubai. The country has pledged to offer 90,000 rooms for guests who will be visiting for the games, which is well above its current existing stock of about 20,000 rooms.

“For the hotel sector, there is pressure because you have a commitment to fulfill something by a certain date,” said Thomas Grundner, VP Global Sales, Jumeirah Group. “Normally you would have the luxury of having a bit more time to grow, but the FIFA puts extreme pressure on delivery and making it happen.”

On the positive side, there was general agreement that hotels will begin to see a lift in demand as early as next year. “The country is planning massive spending, over $100bn, in infrastructure works, which is going to bring a lot of consultants, architects, developers, you name it, and all these people will need accommodation. So the demand for hotel rooms will start in early 2012,” said Bani Haddad, Vice President Development, MEA, Wyndham Hotel Group.

Concerns about oversupply after the games

Commenting on fears of a post-2022 glut in the hotel market, Haddad noted that although the country has pledged to offer 90,000 rooms for visitors to the games, it doesn’t mean that all of the accommodation will be from hotel rooms.

“When we say 90,000 rooms, you have to look at the breakdown. The additional hotel rooms will be between 20,000-25,000, with the rest of the rooms coming from existing hotels, compounds, villas, and other residential accommodation. So I don’t think we have to be scared of this number,” he said.

Still, Haddad warned that Qatar needs to take steps to avoid the mistakes that were made by previous host countries. “One lesson we learned from the South African World Cup experience is that prices were so high for rooms that people traded down and chose to spend their money at budget hotels. So at the end of the day we have to keep in that we need the masses for this kind of event, so I am sure we will see a significant amount of budget brands being developed,” he said.

Attracting people prior to the games will be relatively easy, but getting them to come back following the event will be a challenge, as the country currently only attracts about a million visitors a year, the vast majority of which are business travellers.

“The government is aware of this challenge, and they know they need to develop the leisure market to keep people coming back after the cup, but I don’t think anyone has a clear vision yet,” he pointed out. “I think it will take time. It won’t happen overnight.”

Games will put Qatar on tourist map

Other speakers touted the enormous opportunity that Qatar will have to boost its status as a tourist destination. “There is so much focus on this 30-day event, but sometimes that misses the point,” said Darrell Sheaffer, General Manager, Hotels & Resorts, Hospitality Development Company. “I think you will see a real transformation in the country due to the massive amount of infrastructure taking place. I don’t believe if you build it, they will come. But I do believe if you don’t build it, they will not come.”

Sheaffer said the country is focusing on culture, sport, and education as part of a long-term strategy to boost tourism. Other demand drivers include the soon to be open Qatar National Convention Centre and the Doha International Exhibition Centre.

Grundner agrees that Qatar will benefit greatly from the exposure that the games will bring. “It will give every hotel an opportunity to highlight where they are. Some people do not understand where Qatar actually is. They think of the Middle East as one big country,” he said.

Haddad noted that the events in Bahrain had already created a great opportunity for Qatar by bringing Saudis who had stopped going to Bahrain to Doha. “For some of them it was the first time they had been to Doha, and they discovered something very nice… nice facilities, nice hotels, nice malls, so these people have found a new place. And this is just a small example, so imagine the impact of the World Cup.”

Chris Riga, SVP of Mubarak Al Hassawi Group of Companies, believes Qatar has the resources to position itself as a major tourism player in the region. “Qatar has the opportunity to be another Dubai, and I think it will do that. But what they need to do is position themselves as a leisure destination.

“Look at where Dubai was 15 years ago and where it is today. People will come to do to business in Dubai but they will also come to be entertained. And of course you have every single type of hotel here nowadays, which was not always the case.”

He believes Qatar could be an excellent family destination, especially amongst travellers in the region, because it is a little bit more conservative than in Dubai. “Qatar has invested in hospitality products across the world, so they believe in this industry. Between now and 2022 I believe the government is well aware that they need to position the destination so that it is appropriate for many different types of guests,” he added.

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Tuesday, May 24- 2011 @ 13:08 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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