IN PREPARATION FOR THE 2022 FIFA WORLD CUP, QATAR IS PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS TO ENSURE THE EVENT IS NOT JUST A SUCCESS, BUT THAT IT IS PLACED FIRMLY ON THE INTERNATIONAL TOURISM MAP FOR YEARS TO COME.

As part of its continual efforts to reduce the country's economical dependence on hydrocarbon resources, it comes as no surprise that Qatar is placing a huge focus on tourism, when, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), it is one of the fastest growing industries across the world.

In 2015, it outpaced the growth of the global economy for the fifth consecutive year, contributed 9.8 percent to global GDP – an astounding USD7.2 trillion – and was accountable for one in 11 jobs.

Qatar's tourism sector, although a little more modest, still plays a vital role in the country's economy.

In 2015, the total contribution of travel and tourism reached QAR48.5 billion (USD13.3 billion), 7.1 percent of the national GDP, a figure WTTC forecasts to rise 4.7 per annum until 2026, rising to QAR81.2 billion (USD22.3 billion).

As part of its mission to regulate, develop and promote a sustainable tourism sector, Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) implemented Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy (QNTSS) 2030, which builds on diversifying and strengthening the country's offerings and infrastructure to create an environment conducive to tourism.

First launched in 2014, it is a comprehensive long-term plan, aiming to advance the industry, both in the build up to the 2022 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup, and beyond, in line with Qatar National Vision 2030.

GROWING PAINS

With an ambitious aim of attracting between seven and nine million travellers in 2030, Qatar has a long way to go.

As revealed in data produced by QTA, Qatar welcomed 2.6 million visitors during the first 11 months of 2016, maintaining its overall arrival figures compared with the same period in 2015.

These statistics are less than optimisitic when considering that, according to World Tourism Organization, international tourism grew four percent worldwide in the first nine months of 2016.

"[...] The three factors that have affected the travel, tourism and residential occupancies for 2016 are regional [issues], the crude oil price slump and over supply," summarised, Jaya Bhushan Patnaik, general manager, La Villa Hospitality.

In general, the Middle East has suffered from the sharp decline in oil prices as well as the aftermath of unfortunate incidents within the region.

As a key corporate destination, and a country with a heavy reliance on hydrocarbon resources, the tumbling oil prices have caused businesses to be more conservative with budget, apparent in a pronounced reduction of corporate travellers to both Qatar and across the Middle East.

As Maia Richa, managing partner, A2D Travel, elucidated, "The evolution of the tourism industry is very sensitive to hasty changes [...]," adding that despite Qatar being one of the world's safest countries, there has been a noticeable drop is business over 2015 due to social-economic phenomena.

On a more positive note, Amruda Nair, CEO, Aiana Hotels & Resorts explained that, serviced apartments in Doha are experiencing more demand in long-term stays compared to other cities in the region, with 70 percent of business skewed towards visits of over six months as there is a shift in corporate demand from business travel to longer term assignments or projects.

Corroborating this view, Amr Banouna, director, sales, Crowne Plaza Doha observed, "Doha is performing better than other GCC cities that are also heavily reliant on the corporate segment [...]."

However, this does not bring much comfort to hoteliers who have suffered from the lack of visitors, further amplified with the rapid development of new addresses.

Whilst describing the year as challenging, with reduced occupancy, Banouna expanded, "Demand is clearly down which has seen competition more rate driven, reducing overall Rev- PAR."

Patnaik also recounted a tough year, explaining that occupancy was down 10 percent in 2016, while also observing a QAR15 (USD4.12) decline in average daily rate.

Ultimately, Patnaik noted, "[...] The intensity of the damage is much higher in terms of revenue."

Hoteliers have had to adjust their strategies in order to maintain business and stand out amongst the crowd.

Louay Moallem, manager, Governor West Bay, Suites and Residences, clarified that they not only adjusted prices, but have also added value with supplementary services to lure in guests.

In the face of such challenges, the incessant development of accommodation shows no signs of letting up, as according to STR's August 2016 Pipeline Report, there are 7,980 rooms in 34 hotels in the in construction phase.

Nevertheless, proprietors remain hopeful for stronger results this year due to the postponement of many openings.

As Nair illustrated, "We believe there will be a tapering off of supply as new developments are delayed, thus allowing the market to absorb the gradual increase in inventory."