During the recent visit to Canberra in Australia, Qatar Tourism Chairman and Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer, Mr Akbar Al Baker, was invited to address the Friends of Tourism Group, part of the Australian Parliament, introducing his country and the national flag carrier, Qatar Airways, which is set to launch services from the Middle Eastern country later this year.
Invited by the Hon. Bruce Baird MP, Chairman of the Friends of Tourism to speak in the Australian Parliament, Mr. Al Baker was delighted to take the opportunity of being only the second ever non-political person to be invited to speak in the parliament, and to introduce his country and airline to its members. The country of Qatar, a small - by Australian standards - peninsula bordering the Arabian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, has recently revealed big plans for tourism development.
The presentation at the House of Representatives was well attended with more than 50 members of parliament, together with the Minister of Tourism himself attending the meeting.
Mr. Al Baker explained that historically, Qatar had lived off fishing and pearl diving until the discovery of the world’s second largest natural gas reserves after Alaska. One of the smallest countries in the region, it is however the richest, with a per capita income of US$31,000, and a steady annual growth rate of ten per cent.
Reforms brought about by His Highness, the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, have transformed the country into a modern, open and thriving business hub. Now the country has set its sights on tourism and is promoting its pristine beaches, clear turquoise sea and rich Arabic culture.
Whilst hosting the recent Fourth Global Travel and Tourism Summit in the capital Doha this May, Mr. Akbar Al Baker had revealed Qatar’s vision of the tourist future of the country, which together with the long-term infrastructure projects will diversify Qatar’s economy for future long-term benefit.
The country has plans to spend some US$5 billion on infrastructure projects such as $2.3 billion for roads, $1.4 billion for building construction and $0.8 billion for educational establishments and health centres over the next six years, and is expanding its agricultural projects, preserving precious ground water and diversifying its agricultural products.
To accommodate the ever-growing fleet of national flag carrier, Qatar Airways, the country has also started work on a new airport, which is set to become not only a major hub for Qatar Airways, but will also be a world-class aviation centre, a major cargo centre and gateway to the Middle East and the rest of the World.
Mr. Al Baker explained in detail how the New Doha International Airport will be built and opened in three stages, the first of which will cost more than US$2.5 billion and will involve reclaiming nearly half of the site from the Arabian Gulf with 50 million cubic metres of fill. Phase One will be ready in 2008, and will have a capacity of 12 million passengers per year through a 24 gate passenger terminal complex, whereas the final stage will see a further 40 contact gates, allowing a capacity of 50 million passengers per year, approximately double the current capacity of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, Australia’s busiest airport.
The new Doha International Airport will be the world’s first airport to be designed and built from the ground-up, specifically for the double-decker super jumbo - the Airbus A380-800 - the world’s largest passenger aircraft. On completion of phase one during late 2008, the airport will be able to accommodate two A380-800s at any one time. By the time the airport is fully developed, it will be capable to accommodate six A380-800s.
Although the new Doha International Airport is close to the heart of Mr. Al Baker, he is also the Chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority, and in that capacity, gave the Friends of Tourism his vision of the future of tourism in his country.
He explained that tourism is set to more than double in the next six year, from around 400,000 visitors currently to more than one million tourists by 2010.
Mr. Al Baker said that the conference and exhibition market had been identified as a particular area of opportunity and growth, with Qatar having already made its mark as the first-ever Arab country to host the WTTC summit, while in previous years the country played host to the GASDTECH exhibition in 2002 and the World Trade Conference in 2001.
Apart from promoting Qatar as a MICE destination, it was also to be promoted as a quality tourism destination for leisure, business, education and sports travellers.
“It is about bringing Qatar to the world, and the world to Qatar, ” he said.
The expansive tourism vision for Qatar involves a US$15 billion investment plan that includes the construction of a Museum of Islamic Arts, a landmark national library, a photography museum, and an entertainment city, together with eight new four- and five-star hotels, adding more than 2,550 rooms to the current capacity of the country’s hotels.
Specific projects such as the Pearl Island and North Beach will include hotels, marinas, golf courses, villas and apartments and, in the North Beach development, more than six million square meters of commercial space.
Remarking upon the Australian’s legendary love affair with sports, Mr. Al Baker introduced Qatar as a host of major sporting events, most notably the 15th Asian Games in 2006.
Events such as the European PGA Golf Championships, the Qatar Masters, international tennis tournaments, the Desert Marathon, and equestrian events have put Qatar on the world’s sporting map. Future events such as the Asian Games, the MotoGP Grand Prix and World Superbike championships, and the racing of giant multi-hull catamarans in new events like the ORYX Cup in 2005 and Quest 2006 - a new around the world race - will strengthen that position.
Addressing the Friends of Tourism, Mr. Al Baker stressed the importance of developing business and tourism ties between Qatar and Australia, and announced his intention of commencing a thrice-weekly flight between Doha and Melbourne later this year.
He explained that Qatar was not only a destination of interest to the leisure, sports and business traveller, but also a gateway to the Middle East, and Europe, a continent of particular interest to the Australian traveller.
His airline, Qatar Airways, one of the fastest growing airlines in the world, was not only in a position to offer connections to 60 worldwide destinations by early 2005, and 70 global destinations - spread over all five continents - by the end of 2005, but was also one of only three airlines in the world to have been awarded the prestigious five-star ranking by independent aviation quality monitor Skytrax.
This accolade makes flying with Qatar Airways convenient and comfortable, with a superior service and excellent in-flight entertainment, which lets its passengers experience the renowned Arabian hospitality throughout its extensive network.
Qatar Airways’ fleet is one of the youngest fleets in the skies, and has grown from only four aircraft seven years ago to currently 32 aircraft, with thirteen aircraft to be received throughout 2004. An US$8 billion investment ensures that within the next five years, the fleet will expand to a sizeable 52 aircraft, bringing the average age of the fleet down to around two years.
Stressing again his desire to work with the people of Australia, Mr. Al Baker re-iterated his desire to not only fly to Melbourne three times per week, but to commence daily flights as soon as possible to facilitate the movement of business travellers between the two countries, as well as stimulating tourism on both sides.
He concluded by stating that both countries would stand to benefit enormously through providing opportunities not only for Qataris but Australians as well.
Following his presentation, Mr. Al Baker was invited to tour the Parliament building and had two very successful meetings with Bernie Smith, CEO of Airservices Australia and senior delegates of the Australian Government Department of Transport and Regional Services discussing opportunities to increase Qatar Airways’ regular services to Melbourne with a view to commencing daily flights in the nearest future.