The last quarter of 2018 witnessed the transformation of Qatar Tourism Authority into the Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC), a major step towards fulfilling the plans outlined in the Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy: The Next Chapter. In November 2018, QNTC launched Qatar’s first global destination campaign, a programme that highlights visitor experiences and celebrates the nation’s heritage. The campaign is being rolled out across fifteen existing and target markets, with the goal of reaching an audience of 250 million travelers.
Qatar welcomed 1.819 million visitors in 20181, representing an overall decline of 19% compared to 2017. As 2018 was the first full year with the blockade in place, declines in visitor arrivals in comparison to previous years were of course expected. Arrival trends throughout the year, however, were encouraging. After witnessing drops in arrivals from January to May 2018 (with the comparison January – May 2017 representing a strong, pre-blockade period), Qatar enjoyed a consistent increase in visitor arrivals from June through December. Moreover, across the full year, Qatar experienced an increase in visitor arrivals from every source market region, apart from nationals of the GCC and Other Arab regions.
QNTC continues to work to expand Qatar’s international visitation by diversifying visitor source markets and promoting Qatar as an attractive tourism destination. In 2018, QNTC opened six representative offices in three of the world’s largest visitor source markets: India, China and Russia. As a result of these efforts, India (+66,953, up 20%), China (+17,361, up 38%) and Russia (+12,157, up 123%) were amongst the top ten nationalities in terms of increase in arrivals volumes between 2017 and 2018. In 2018, Indian (400,661) and Chinese (62,988) visitors ranked first and third amongst the top ten visitor source markets by arrivals from nonGCC nationalities in absolute size, and Russia ranked highest in terms of the top ten nationalities with the fastest growth rates between 2017 and 2018.
The cruise industry continues to grow at a rapid pace, with Qatar welcoming 31 ships carrying a total of 64,400 passengers at Doha Port in 2018, an 83% increase in cruise passengers compared to 2017.
Thanks to the numerous steps Qatar has taken to ease visitor access since 2016, Qatar is now the most open country in the Middle East and the 8th most open country in the world, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) visa openness rankings. Nationals of 83 countries are now eligible for visa-waiver entry into Qatar, representing more than 1.2mn visitor arrivals in 2018.
The tourist accommodation sector saw a 10% growth in demand throughout 2018, a continuation of the growth Qatar experienced in 2017 (3%). While
accommodation room supply increased in 2018 (by 4.8%), the growth in demand was far greater, resulting in a 5% increase in the occupancy rate across all hotels and hotel apartments to 61%. Average Room Rates (ARR) and Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR) dropped 13% and 8% in 2018, compared to 2017; serving as an important key driver for the increase in occupancy rates. The outlook for hotel performance in 2019 is promising, with continued growth expected from the visa-waiver programme, as well as a number of new MICE events. Further, Qatar is emerging as an attractive wedding destination for modern luxury weddings, with six Indian weddings confirmed to be held in Qatar during the first quarter of the year.
Qatar’s strategy to enhance the tourism experience in the hospitality sector has garnered the attention of industry experts. Hospitality and travel data providers Olery recently upgraded Qatar’s guest experience ranking from first place among the GCC to first place in the Middle East, in the company’s latest Guest Experience in the Middle East Report.
Looking beyond performance indicators, QNTC launched several developments in 2018 to enhance visitor experience. A key initiative was Al Enna, a
project that covers an area of 6 million m2 in Sealine and Khor AlAdaid and aims to enhance visitors’ coastal and desert experience, a key objective of the Next Chapter of QNTSS. Al Enna is the initial phase of a comprehensive plan to develop the region over a five-year period. The plan entails the development of roads, beaches, accommodation and camp infrastructure, as well as the region’s commercial sector.
Exciting opportunities also are on the horizon as QNTC advances within the MICE sector. In 2018, Qatar won the rights to host six major business events to be held between 2019 and 2022, with a prospective number of participants reaching up to 2,400. QNTC has been working to leverage the country’s state-of-the-art sports facilities to bolster Qatar’s position as a world-class sports tourism destination. In 2019, Doha will host the World Corporate Games, which will be held for the first time in the Middle East and is expected to attract about 8,000 international and local participants.
QNTC is also continuing its support for local sports events such as the Esrar Race, AlAdaid Desert Challenge, Doha Triathlon and the Qatar Motorcycle Grand Prix (MotoGP).