Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Wed November 25 2015

Can Qatar Build on its Air Travel Industry Success?

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | November 25, 2015

Can Qatar Build on its Air Travel Industry Success?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Qatar has come a long way in a relatively short time. The tiny Arabian Peninsula country has been in the news in recent years because its successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been hit by corruption allegations and rumors of mistreatment of the workers who were hired to build the soccer stadiums. 

With ongoing investigations of FIFA’s leaders, many of whom allegedly received payoffs to vote for Qatar, there are serious doubts about whether the country will host the World Cup at all. Unfortunately, this ongoing controversy has overshadowed the huge strides that the country’s air travel industry has made in a very short period of time. 

Tiny, but also wealthy and influential

Thanks to its vast oil and natural gas reserves, Qatar, a British Protectorate until 1971, has the highest per capita income on earth. The country is home to the Al Jazeera Media Network, and the government has a lot of clout in the Arab World. It even funded several opposition groups during the so-called Arab Spring. 

In the travel world, Qatar has made waves with a brand new airport in its capital, Doha, and a newly popular flag carrier, Qatar Airways, which was recently named the best airline in the world by Skytrax. 

PHOTO: The skyline of Doha appears through arches at the Museum of Islamic Art. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

A growing airport 

Hamad International Airport is not even two years old. It saw about 30 million passengers during its first year in operation and has experienced a significant increase in passenger numbers in recent months. 

Hamad has already earned praise for its user-friendliness and for its artwork. The airport is experimenting with new automated security and ticketing systems. It has 28 works of art created by artists from around the world. The most eye-catching piece is a giant teddy bear with its head stuck in a desk lamp. Qatar Museums also has an art gallery/gift shop in the airport.  

A high profile airline

Qatar Airways, meanwhile, has made huge strides recently. The flag carrier flies to most of the world’s international hubs from Doha. It is launching service to U.S. cities like LA, Atlanta and Boston in the next year, and it already flies to Miami and New York. Sydney is another major long haul route that will be added in the near future. Qatar’s CEO Akbar Al Bakker has hinted that he will be making a major announcement about his airline’s service in the U.S. when he visits New York in December.  

Will Qatar ever be a leisure tourism destination?

Qatar has a large expat community and a very active business travel industry. In order to diversify its economy and not be totally dependent on the oil markets, the country has tried to increase its tourism potential. Qatar is certainly in the midst of a building boom, but the nearby UAE is more known for its opulent structures, malls and hotels. Another neighbor, Bahrain, is much more liberal than the other Gulf States and, therefore, is more attractive to Western tourists and business travelers seeking a relaxed environment.    

As an air travel hub, however, Doha can stand out. There are plans to build bridges or roads on reclaimed land that will connect Qatar with Bahrain and the UAE. Also, because of Qatar Air's worldwide reach, the country could become an air travel hub like Dubai, with people using Qatar as a place to connect when traveling between continents. 

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