Mr. Akbar Al Baker is quite simply a driving force in the development of tourism in Qatar. Not only does he serve as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Qatar Tourism Authority, where his contribution to the growth and development of QTA and the State of Qatar is without compare, he has also turned Qatar Airways into a profitable group of companies that includes Qatar Airways Holidays, Qatar Aviation Services, Qatar Aircraft Catering Company, Doha International Airport, United Media International, Qatar Distribution Company, and Qatar Duty Free Company.
Mr. Al Baker is responsible for operating Doha International Airport where he has overseen its QAR0.5 billion rejuvenation. Completing the picture he also sits on the Government committee that is planning the new $2 billion airport, due for completion in 2008. Quite a busy man then. With the WTTC Summit about to start in Doha we were lucky he found the time to answer a few of our questions.
Qatar Airways have been the success story of the airline industry in the last few years. This is set against a background of industry woes. I wanted to know where Mr.Al Baker would like the company to be in ten years time and he responded with the enthusiasm one might expect from a man who has carried them this far.
“Qatar Airways wants to be the best airline in the world, in terms of quality rather than quantity. Although we are following an aggressive growth plan and expanding to an extent that earned us the tag ‘one of the fastest growing airlines in the world’ we do not loose sight of our commitment to transport each and every passenger personally and make the best possible services available to them.”
He continued, “Qatar Airways has just been awarded the prestigious Skytrax 5-star rating, of which we are extremely proud. We are one of only three airlines in the world to have been awarded that honour. Also we were voted into 7th place in the category ‘Airline of the Year 2004’, jumping up from last year’s 24th position. Being voted 7th, from the 130 airlines that were considered by more that 10 million passenger votes, means we are obviously on the right track.”
Mr Al Baker concluded. “In ten years time, we will an airline with a global network, a modern, extensive fleet, a safety record that will remain unchallenged over the years and we will be on the top spot for Skytrax’s Airline of the Year slot.”. With the clarity of his ambition you start to see why Qatar is developing so fast.
The airport is going to be an essential element to Qatar’s progress and we discussed this at length. It’s another subject on which his enthusiasm takes hold.
“Qatar Airways is growing at such a rate, that it is essential for us to build a new airport to be able to accommodate our fleet, number of passengers, and ensure that our passengers have the best possible airport experience. As we were one of the launch customers to sign up for the super jumbo, the Airbus A380, we will need the new airport to provide us with the capacity and facilities required to deal with these huge aircraft. When the first phase opens in 2008, the new airport will be able to handle two fully laden A380s with ease.”
Busy developing the tools for the job Mr.Al Baker has not lost sight of the ultimate goal of developing his country as a popular destination. As he puts it, “Qatar is strategically located between the business capitals of Europe and Asia and offers state-of-the-art conference and sporting facilities, luxurious hotels and an impeccable safety record. Combine that with a beautiful sea, rolling sand dunes, and an inherent and much-nurtured sense of culture and tradition, and you have a perfect destination for both leisure and business travellers.”
The points he makes are clearly illustrated by the hosting of the WTTC Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Doha this year. It clearly has a huge significance for Qatar and for Mr.Al Baker. “The GTTS is THE event for the travel and tourism industry and brings together more than 500 Chief Executives, Chairmen, and high-profile decision-makers of the world’s most prominent Travel and Tourism companies, numerous ministers and more than 150 press media from all over the world. It is an honour to have been invited to host the event, as the first country in the Middle East. It is a great opportunity for us to showcase Qatar and Qatar Airways to the world.”
For Mr.Al Baker the GTTS must feel like just reward for his efforts over the last ten years, particularly as it ties in so well with ATM 2004 and the promotion of the whole region. In the past it might have been tempting to suggest that Qatar and Qatar Airways were punching above their weight but these days one feels that they no longer need the ‘emerging’ tag. There’s no irony when Mr Al Baker concludes, “The Arabian Travel Market is the premier event of its kind in the region, second this year only to the Global Travel and Tourism Summit”. Whatever the future holds Mr. Akbar Al Baker is already a man that the people of Qatar have much to thank for.