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Qatar: on the brink

The tiny gulf state of Qatar has ambitious strategies in place to attract more international business events. Angela Antrobus reports

Qatar isn’t only gearing up to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it’s stepping up its efforts to grow its credentials as an attractive destination for business events.

Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), shortly to become the National Tourism Council, is increasing its marketing to raise awareness of Qatar as a knowledge hub where visitors can enjoy a modern meetings experience complemented by authentic Arabian culture.

Qatar Airways connects the capital Doha to 150 destinations worldwide and counting. The state has introduced visa-free entry for nationals of over 80 countries, opened new overseas QTA representative offices and, next month, QTA and ICCA (International Congress & Convention Association) will host an International Meetings Expert Session on bidding designed for local associations and industry suppliers.

“We target sectors in line with the National Vision 2030 making Qatar a destination for scientists, researchers, and artists not only looking for a meeting place but a place where they can continue to learn and share knowledge,” says QTA’s Ahmed Al-Obaidli. “Qatar’s active knowledge hubs cover the fields of construction and urban planning, education, science and technology, sports, healthcare and, naturally, oil and gas.”

Qatar hosted the World Petroleum Congress with over 15,000 delegates in 2011 and the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP18) in 2012. Both were in Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) which opened in 2011. It’s a beautiful, environmentally responsible building in the heart of Education City, alongside Qatar Science & Technology Park and Sidra Medical and Research Center. Since then, Doha Exhibition & Conference Center (DECC) has opened in the heart of Doha’s commercial district.

“In addition to encouraging our local partners to bid for large-scale events to be hosted at these venues, we market our hotels with meeting facilities for events of 1,000 delegates or less,” explains Al-Obaidli. “Organisers prefer this option due to convenience and the all-inclusive packages they offer. QNCC and DECC give unmatched value as a lot of their services are built into the overall cost. They’re not in competition with the hotels. They co-exist as part of the overall ecosystem.”

A firm believer in Qatar as an emerging international conference destination is Professor Panos Ketikidis of the University of Sheffield, UK, and co-chairman of the 11th International Conference of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Regional Development (ICEIRD) taking place in the St Regis Doha hotel in October.

“In order to meet the global demand, ICEIRD is moving out of Europe to the Middle East,” he says. “Every time we visit Qatar we notice large developments, more companies, more events and more knowledge and this shows Qatar’s strong potential to attract investment which definitely requires knowledge-flows and conferences like ICEIRD.

QTA and Qatar University convinced us with their strong bid which was not easy as we had offers from the Netherlands, USA and Canada as well. During our pre-visits in Qatar we were convinced about the quality of the bid.”

“We chose the St Regis because it’s secluded, one of the best in terms of customer services, hospitality and meeting rooms and we succeeded in getting the best offer for room bookings and catering.

“Our aim for ICEIRD is to inflow global know-how around the conference topics into the ecosystem of Qatar and ensure a mutual growth of all stakeholders while building a long-lasting partnership with Qatar institutions.”