Breaking Travel News interview: Issa Mohammed Al Mohannadi, chairman, Qatar Tourism Authority

Breaking Travel News interview: Issa Mohammed Al Mohannadi, chairman, Qatar Tourism Authority

Phil Blizzard here speaks with Issa Mohammed Al Mohannadi, chairman, Qatar Tourism Authority about the organisation’s long term strategy for tourism development, the role of local stakeholders like Qatar Airways and what Qatar can offer its guests as it strives to become a leading tourism destination.

Breaking Travel News: Let’s start with a look at your recent report detailing your tourism figures for 2013. What were the key aspects of this report?

Isa Mohammed: Well, it’s an exciting year for us and recently all the years or the last few years we have seen a positive trend on the tourism.

In Qatar specifically, we have seen an increase of number of visitors coming to the destination as compared to the previous year.

We have an increase of around nine per cent for people visiting us from outside the region and 14 per cent from people within the region itself.

That by itself is way above the normal average, you know, number of visitors coming – or published by the World Tourism Organisation where the average is three to four per cent.

Also, in terms of hotels, we have seen an increase in occupancy rates - to between 56 and 65 per cent.

Although we have introduced around 117 more rooms last year as well.

These are great signs by itself, even the return of revenues coming from the hotel has increased.

We have seen a 3.5 billion Riyal increase from the four and five star hotels.

So these figures are really positive as keeping us with a high momentum to go forward and to believe that we could, you know, create a transformation in this industry, especially in Qatar.

BTN: Well, going forward is what we’re going to do now and looking at the strategy for 2030 you have the slogan ‘World Class Destination, Deep Cultural Roots’. So balancing the two, is it going to be a challenge in some ways, but just to start off, what are the key elements of your strategy for 2030?

IM: We launched a strategy of cooperative and intensive fork with all the stakeholders.

We launched a strategy back in January.

The strategy has been giving us the roadmap toward the future and what figures and statistics that we are targeting as a nation.

We are targeting seven million visitors by 2030.

We have target to really increase our contribution from this sector to the economy by almost four times than what it is right now.

So we want to be around 3.1 per cent by 2030 as well.

The strategy itself has given us clear roadmap on where we should go in the next few years.

One of the main pillars for the strategy is really to diversify our offering as a destination, build on the product evolvement or develop the product even further to uniquely give Qatar what we have right now.

We would like to keep, after all, develop the country to become a modern world class destination with cultural roots or deep cultural roots.

That, for us, is a great blend for having a modern developed destination, one where we are very proud of the rules and the culture.

BTN: It’s very important to keep those roots, isn’t it? Very important to keep those roots, the cultural aspects.

IM: Exactly. Because that’s part of the offering that Qatar has already.

We have unique products such as Qatar Village which is a unique product for roots and the culture.

It gives visitors a taste of what is the local culture is all about and at the same time, they can enjoy five star hotels, the top brands in the country, including retails and so on.

So you could show up for the latest model in retails while enjoying hospitality rooted in the Arabian culture.

BTN: When you mentioned stakeholders, I’m thinking – and the Hub aspect of Qatar, thinking of Qatar Airways. How important is Qatar Airways in driving forward those visits or numbers?

IM: Very important, you know.

With the opening of Hamad International Airport which has been coinciding with this timing opened last week.

Now the airport is building a capacity to receive around 50 million visitors a year.

Qatar Airways, another side being one of the fastest growing airlines in the world and also offering five star quality service is a major contributor to the success for tourism.

Qatar Airways flies to more than 130 destinations and that’s also important for connectivity to bring tourists across to Qatar.

We work hand by hand, side by side with Qatar Airways.

We have joint programs, you know, such as 48 Hours in Doha, such as transit programs for the visitors coming to Qatar as well as also common branding overseas.

That has been part of our initiative to enhance the marketing and promotion of overseas, including opening new offices.

I don’t know if you’re aware that the new office in Paris opened last year, also that makes it the second international office that represents the office we have.

We’re working also to open a new office in Germany as well.

That’s part of the destination of marketing and promotion strategy.

BTN: That visibility in key cities is no doubt very important to developing your strategy. I’m just wondering, I mean you’re talking about large figures and Qatar really is a small country. So how do you balance the influx of visitors and maintaining the tradition, the social values of your society?

IM: So, you got to remember that Qatar is a peninsula.

So we have the water is surrounding Qatar from three sides. That has great potential for developing the sun and beach offering of Qatar.

We have unique geographical phenomena such the west of Qatar, or south of Qatar, the golden sand dunes, which reach down to the waters of the sea.

Another aspect and strength of Qatar is the people themselves, in that we are a welcoming nation.

We love to share our culture with the people coming to visit us and explore the culture we have.

So that has been a strength for us and Qatar from a tourism point of view.

The blended self or the culture we are very proud of our culture.

There are many interesting programs such as, you know, the National Day Celebration or such as programs that have been launched, for example, the cultural village where we are proudly celebrating our culture.

We are sharing this culture with the people coming from outside to visit us.

I’m really not concerned that there is an impact of tourism versus local culture.

As a matter of fact, I believe that this is one of the strengths for any destination is to keep the rules and to really promote their cultures to the outsiders.