PHOTO: Souk Waqif in Doha, Qatar. (photo by Robin Amster)
Qatar is making a bid to attract American visitors with a particular focus on working with the U.S. travel trade.
At a press conference here—the capital city of this Middle Eastern country—a Discover Qatar representative said tourism officials want to boost awareness of Qatar in advance of several upcoming events, including Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“We can’t wait until after,” said Marc Anthony Bennett, senior vice president of Discover Qatar, a recently created destination management company (DMC) under the national carrier Qatar Airways.
MORE Destination & Tourism
Qatar has seen the development of DMC’s but these cater primarily to domestic tourists and those from neighboring nations in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), of which Qatar is a member, Bennet said.
“We need to internationalize,” he said. “Initially we are developing English-speaking markets; mass global tourism isn’t for us.”
According to Bennett, “There is significant American interest in Indian Ocean tourism and Qatar wants to get a part of that.” Marketing efforts will focus on the U.S. trade, he added.
A new, soon-to-launch IT platform will facilitate booking Qatar tourism by U.S. travel agents and tour operators; up to now booking Qatar—with the exception of hotels through hotel res systems—has been difficult, he said.
Now is a particularly good time to market Qatar given the introduction last fall of a new Transit Visa program aimed at positioning the country as a tourist-friendly destination, according to tourism officials.
The program, announced by Qatar Airways and the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), allows passengers with layovers of five or more hours at Hamad International Airport to request a complimentary transit visa. Transiting passengers of all nationalities can enter Qatar for up to 96 hours in between flights.
READ MORE WATCH: Qatar Airways Debuts New Business Suites
Doha’s urban landscape with a host of architecturally stunning skyscrapers has prompted comparisons with neighboring Dubai but Bennett and Al Merschen, president and CEO of Myriad Marketing—QTA’s U.S. representative—said the city doesn’t want to be known as the new Dubai.
As a world-class hub with 1,400 years of Islamic history, Doha—and Qatar—“are not trying to replicate other Middle East destinations,” said Bennett.
“We have unique landscapes and unique experiences,” he added. “The cultural side, more than anything else, is what will be the difference between Qatar and Dubai.”
Qatar’s cultural attractions include museums and galleries, traditional souks, architectural sites and forts, and public art and architecture along with activities like desert safaris and adventures, cruises on traditional Qatari dhows, natural wonders, shopping, and sports.
Tourism officials also plan to develop additional attractions including desert camps along with marine access to them, unique desert transportation, and niche experiences like astrology and ornithology tours, said Bennett.
According to Merschen, there’s been a 28 percent hike in U.S. visitors to Qatar since 2013 with more than 102,000 Americans visiting the country in 2016. A total of two million Americans visited the Middle East that year, he added.
Those results were achieved without aggressive marketing by Qatar.