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Qatar moves to meet growing tourism demand

Qatar is seeking to build up its tourism infrastructure and capitalise on a sharp increase in international visitors by launching a $5.5 billion entertainment-focused development, according to industry experts.

The Simaisma Project, by the Diar Real Estate Investment Company, was announced last week by Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister.

It will cover 8 square kilometres along 7km of waterfront on the nation’s east coast.

The project, some 40 minutes outside Doha, will include luxury resorts, an expansive theme park in the style of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, an 18-hole golf course, high-end residences, a yacht club and marina, and restaurants and shops.

At an event announcing the development Qatar’s minister of municipality Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah said: “We are thrilled to contribute to the growth of the tourism and entertainment sector by spearheading innovative projects that meet the rising demand in this crucial industry.”

Qatar has had rapid growth in visitor numbers since it hosted the World Cup in 2022.

Arrivals went from about 2.1 million in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic halted global tourism, to nearly 2.6 million in 2022 and just over 4 million last year, according to Qatar’s National Tourism Council.

The 2023 figure is up almost 90 percent on the total for 2019.

More than 1.6 million people visited the small Gulf nation in the first quarter of this year, a 40 percent jump over the same period in 2023, the tourism council said in its latest quarterly report. January had the highest number of international arrivals recorded, at 703,000.

Johnny Archer, head of research and consulting for Qatar at Cushman & Wakefield, said: “While Qatar’s focus for a number of years was the development of the MICE [business-related] tourism sector, the ambition to grow the leisure tourism sector has been clearly evident over the past five years.”

The significant increase in tourist arrivals since 2022 “illustrates the potential of the market once the infrastructure is in place,” Archer said.

Nearly one in three visitors from January to March of this year came from Saudi Arabia. GCC tourists made up 44 percent of the total. 

Anum Hasan, manager for advisory and research for Saudi Arabia and Qatar at Dubai-based consultancy ValuStrat, said Qatar’s proximity to other Gulf countries makes it easier for regional travellers to visit the country during school breaks or for sporting events.

Hotel room occupancy in the first quarter was at 75 percent, a 21 percentage point increase from the same period last year. The average daily room rate (ADR) rose to QAR484 ($132.59), 10 percent above the first quarter of 2023.

By comparison, occupancy in Dubai stood at 83 percent in the first three months of the year, with ADR at AED638 ($185.95), a 5 percent increase over the same period last year.

Adam Stewart, head of Qatar at  Knight Frank, said the country had successfully built on the World Cup by continuing to host major sporting events, including the Qatar ExxonMobil tennis tournament, the Commercial Bank Qatar golf masters and the Formula One Qatar Grand Prix.

Qatar is now in talks to host rugby’s Nations Championship, AGBI reported in June.

But it faces strong competition from Saudi Arabia to be the Gulf’s prime sporting destination, according to Simon Chadwick, a professor of sport and geopolitical economy and AGBI columnist. Both Doha and Riyadh are bidding for the 2036 Olympic Games, he pointed out. 

Knight Frank's Stewart said: “The new Simaisma theme park, coupled with the recent opening of the Meryal water park, which boasts the highest waterslide in the world, will help Qatar compete more effectively for GCC and international tourists with the other big regional markets.”

Hasan of ValuStrat, agreeing, said: “Qatar is introducing significant entertainment attractions to draw tourists to the country for leisure travel in an effort to diversify the source of incoming tourism.”

For a detailed perspective on the property market, visit: Qatar - Real Estate Review Q1 2024