A brand called Qatar

The region just can’t get enough of the rise and rise of Qatar. Jethu Abraham finds out what’s great about the country, even in these trying times

Anyone who’s ever been to Qatar knows that the place does not offer exciting or remotely interesting options to the most discerning of leisure travellers. Probably realising this at a very developmental stage itself, the country soon began investing heavily in business travel options and is still doing so at an interesting pace. The business formula worked effectively and soon this strip of a country made it to the regions’ news pages and the front cover of MICE magazines as the numero uno 
destination. It all started with Qatar’s astonishing economic growth with their nominal GDP growth averaging at around 24.6 
per cent in the four years between 2003 and 2006. This success was soon translated 
in the country’s infrastructural and real estate plans.

“The smartest move that the economy did was liberalising its laws on property ownership well in advance of a number of other Middle Eastern countries,” says my fellow passenger Nina Rashid on our Qatar Airways flight to the country. An IT professional-turned-freelance real estate agent, Rashid is one of many expatriates who left their home countries and flew in to Qatar in the hope of better prospects. And their plans have fallen right in place, as our in-flight manual states. Showcase projects mentioned include Doha’s new now half-built international airport, 32 new road projects and the causeway linking Bahrain and Qatar. Of course, one of the primary makeovers done by the country was the revamping of Qatar Airways — the country’s national airline. Ever since its relaunch in 1997, the award winning airline has had numerous success hits to boast about, right from impressive service to impressive numbers — a mere four aircrafts in 1997 to the 68 Boeing and Airbus aircrafts that it operates today. By 2013, the airlines plan on doubling their fleet size to almost 110 aircrafts.

Even when the latter half of 2009 saw many airlines in the region altering their expansion plans owing to the credit crunch, Qatar Airways struck a US$700 million deal for the purchase of four brand new Boeing 777 aircrafts due for delivery over the next few months. The difference is seen in the quality of service as well. Once shadowed by the region’s top notch airlines, Qatar Airways stands on its own today and offers quality service, making it worth every award it receives for its hospitality. In fact, it looks promising enough to give other popular airlines a run for their money. A visit to their Business class and First class lounges confirms the fact that the lounges ooze luxury and authenticates their claim of being the ‘world’s 5-star airliner’.

As soon as we leave the airport, I am struck by the similarity of the place to how Dubai once looked — construction happening at a feverish pace and cranes a fixture at every possible scene. The taxi driver complains of traffic as well, completing the list of similarities. En route, we see workers pulling down huge billboards of the film festival that got over a month ago, a result of a partnership between the Qatar Museum Authority and the New York Tribeca Festival. The festival, which was founded by Robert DeNiro, saw the likes of industry heavyweights such as Martin Scorsese and Ben Kingsley and sent the country in a flurry of activity. The busiest would probably have been the A-list hotels that have recently sprung in the country and have been elbowing with each other in a bid to look promising enough for a celebrity visit or a major international conference.

Currently, the uber-luxurious W hotel beats all competition with its seductive choice of contemporary décor and staff trained to pamper and please. The hotel has affluent and different names to just about everything; where a stay is referred to as the W experience; room service — Whatever/Whenever and the hotel employees referred to as W talent — promising to provide you just about anything under the sun “so long as its legal”.

I ask one of the W talents on the conferencing facilities in the hotel and she introduces me to nearly 1,000 square metres of ultra-modern meeting and event space, able to host gatherings for about 500 people. Interestingly, several of Doha’s largest hotels provide facilities with extensive support services, including simultaneous translation systems and full audio-visual capability, breathing life into the government’s plans of stimulating business travel options in the city.

Two feathers to the W cap are their purchase of Bliss Spas in New York and their line of products and the functioning of the Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges. While the former boasts almost 8,000 square feet of tension-fighting facilities that might put most of the local luxury spas out of business, the latter, a world–class restaurant concept, is by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The hotel’s dark interiors rob the sunlight completely but keeps you cool nevertheless.

I leaf through the city’s traveller’s guide and see the regional offerings on display: a bit of the desert, a bit of the sea and lots of English. A friend recommends Souq Waqif and I visit it to find tiring artificial traces of the ‘now-constructed’ facets of Arabian history but a visit to the Third Line Gallery (co-organisers of Pecha Kucha Doha) located on the ground floor of the Waqif Art Centre building turns out to be quite interesting, with showcased works of some upcoming artists in the region. I then remember how an art freak in Dubai mentioned that most artists in Dubai nowadays almost always have a second show held in Doha.

The country has had a successful makeover and is ready for the coming years with a host of initiatives and infrastructure developments up its sleeve. Armed with the highest GDP per capita in the world, the initiatives look ready, way beyond their launch dates. Of course, the city also has had the highest per capita carbon-dioxide emissions since the past 18 years but until anyone seriously starts talking about the weather, the country looks promising enough for your next business lunch meeting.

Khaleej Times

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