Philip Dickinson is head of International Markets, MICE, Sport and E-Sport at Qatar Tourism. In the build up to Qatar hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, BTN caught up with him to discuss how the nation is positioning itself as a global hub for tourism, events and MICE.
BTN: How is Qatar’s tourism in 2022, as international borders reopen after the pandemic?
In 2022 we have seen the start of a tourism resurgence in the country, after Qatar’s borders re-opened to international travellers in the summer of last year.
Our role at Qatar Tourism is to continue to evolve the visitor experience by promoting new hotels and hotel developments, theme parks, restaurants, shops, and major leisure projects in the lead up, during and beyond the FIFA World Cup 2022TM.
Qatar Tourism’s overarching goal is to welcome over six million international visitors a year by 2030, which would make Qatar the fastest growing destination in the Middle East.
New theme parks include the Desert Falls Water & Adventure Park at Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas, the largest waterpark in Qatar, with 28 exhilarating rides and slides; and Doha Quest, a theme park, which opened last July and is home to the world’s tallest indoor shot & drop tower and the world’s tallest indoor rollercoaster.
BTN: What growth do you expect to see post World Cup?
PD: Qatar’s goal is to welcome over six million visitors a year by 2030, which would make the country the fastest growing international travel destination in the MENA region. Check out our vibrant calendar of events here:
BTN: Qatar is hosting several new events, including Formula 1.
The first ever Qatar Formula 1 Grand Prix took place at the Lusail Circuit last year, and the country will host an F1 race for at least a decade from 2023.
Another exciting event will be the Qatar Geneva International Motor Show. Through a partnership with Qatar Tourism the iconic automotive event will take place here for the first-time next year, with the intention for the show to return every two years.
For our tourism trade partners and stakeholders, Qatar Travel Mart (QTM) will return for its second edition in October 2023. QTM is the first exhibition of its kind in Qatar to promote both inbound and outbound tourism, gathering the world’s top destinations to reveal the latest trends in Sports, MICE, Business, Cultural, Leisure, Luxury, Medical, and Halal tourism.
Alongside the above we will no doubt see the return of popular events put on by Qatar Tourism such as the Qatar International Food Festival and the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition.
And outside of football you can expect lots of thrilling occasions such as the MotoGP Grand Prix of Qatar, pro-tour tournaments in tennis, athletics, and golf, and major events for some of the more emerging sports such as kitesurfing and padel tennis.
BTN: What’s your strategy to ensure a long-term legacy of the World Cup?
An extensive tourism development strategy is underway including the construction of many new resorts, hotels and hotel apartments, which will meet the needs of every budget and add to the existing list of properties.
Our national strategy focuses on boosting inbound visitors with the goal to welcome over six million visitors a year by 2030. The development strategy to meet this demand has been fundamentally designed with sustainable growth in mind. As the first Middle East country to host the FIFA World Cup™ Qatar has taken care to ensure that developments, including the new football stadiums, offer sustainable growth and will continue to have a purpose beyond the 2022 tournament.
As just one example, Stadium 974 will become the first fully-dismantled stadium in the history of the FIFA World Cup, designed in a unique way using 974 shipping containers and demountable building units. This will echo the nearby port and Doha’s long maritime history. The innovative design will allow it to be fully dismantled after the tournament - a first for a FIFA World Cup venue and a sign of Qatar’s commitment to sustainability in the country’s 2030 vision.
BTN: What are Qatar’s focus markets at FIFA World Cup and beyond?
PD: The FIFA World Cup has focus markets of its own, which is the 32 countries whose teams have earned the right to compete on football’s biggest stage. For Qatar Tourism our priority markets pre and post FIFA World Cup will be UK/Ireland, North America, Italy, France, Nordics, Spain, Turkey, Central and Eastern Europe, Indian Sub-Continent and Australia.
BTN: What trade shows are Qatar attending pre and post FIFA World Cup?
PD: We have a busy calendar coming up for the remainder of 2022. This September we’re off to Seatrade Cruise Med, ILTM in Singapore and OTM in India. October IGTM in Rome and November World Travel Market in London, after that it’s FIFA World Cup but we start again in 2023 with FITUR and ITB and 2023 will see us exhibiting at the key leisure and MICE trade shows in our priority source markets.
BTN: What are Qatar’s key attractions?
PD: Qatar is fast emerging as one of the most exciting global travel destinations, featuring an abundance of undiscovered experiences and varied itineraries suitable for every type of trip and traveller.
The country offers spectacular sandy beaches and has ideal conditions for water sports such as kitesurfing, paddle boarding, and jet skiing. Visitors can experience awe-inspiring architecture, traditional souqs, and world-class museums, as well as cuisines ranging from local and traditional fare to modern and international gastronomy – all with the promise of first-class hospitality.
The country blends affordable luxury with The Pearl-Qatar, The Corniche and a range of five-star hotels and restaurants; and Middle Eastern tradition, with the Souq Waqif, the Grand Mosque and the traditional dhow cruises. Check out www.visitqatar.com for a list of all the top attractions.
BTN: What types of holidays are offered by Qatar, city break, beach holiday, cultural break?
PD: With a diverse range of activities and varied itineraries suitable for every type of trip and traveller Qatar has something for everyone.
Our proprietary research has identified key drivers determining destination choice, mapped against Qatar’s strongest tourism assets which have given us the following key areas, or as we call them “demand spaces”, to focus on:
• Active Holidays
• Sun, Sea & Sand
• Relax & Rejuvenate
• Culture Enthusiasts
• Luxury City Breaks
• Romantic Getaways
BTN: What is Qatar’s unique selling point?
PD: For me it is the mix of rich Arabian tradition and heritage that has played host to guests across the globe for decades. Qatar captures the essence of the whole of the Middle East in one accessible, safe and unmissable destination.
BTN: Which football team do you support and who is going to win the World Cup?
I’m a huge fan of the beautiful game and I played for many years too. I support Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in the championship and Liverpool in the Premiership (just love Klopp and his management style).
Tough call on who will win the World Cup, my heart always says England but my head says it won’t happen as too many technically better and well organised teams in the competition. If pushed the Brazil squad has so much talent with Spain, France and Germany also looking very good, but as always it will be the team who galvanise as a unit, have a game plan and plenty of talent.
BTN: What is your favourite hotel or resort in Qatar and why?
PD: Too many to mention as we have such an amazing range of hotels from boutique to large beach resorts. Also, so many fabulous new openings in readiness of the FIFA World Cup. Something for every requirement too.
Excellent beach resorts such as Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas, Four Seasons Hotel Doha, The St. Regis Doha, Waldorf Astoria Doha and Sharq Village & Spa. Great vibe and dining options at W Doha, Banyan Tree Doha and the Ritz-Carlton Doha, and simply spectacular design and luxury with a new Fairmont / Raffles, Mandarin Oriental Doha and Park Hyatt Doha.
BTN: What’s your vision for Qatar’s MICE sector?
PD: Our vision for tourism is moving from welcoming 2.1 million visitors in 2019 to 6 million per year by 2030. MICE will play an integral part of that representing approximately 20% of the target.
BTN: How has the MICE industry in Qatar adapted in the face of the pandemic?
PD: Qatar adapted very well in the face of the pandemic by quickly introducing a “Qatar Clean” programme ensuring hotels and venues adhered to the highest levels of health and safety protocols. This enabled Qatar to continue hosting “bubble” events even when our borders remained closed. All the participants / delegates were kept separated and in their “bubble” to ensure a safe and secure event for everyone.
BTN: What makes Doha the ideal hub for MICE? And what role will the FIFA World Cup play in highlighting the MICE opportunities?
PD: Qatar’s geographical location and the fact that it’s connected directly to over 150 destinations on all continents by the world’s best airline Qatar Airways makes it an ideal and accessible hub. This with purpose built modern state-of-the-art exhibition centres such as Doha Exhibition & Convention Centre (DECC) and Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC), stunning venues including Katara and the National Museum of Qatar, and a great choice of options across the hotels. Qatar’s attractions are also easily accessible, the sun is always shining, it’s the safest country in the world and we have an excellent range of hotel and dining options to suit all budgets. The FIFA World Cup will highlight the ability of a small state delivering one of the world’s largest sporting events.
BTN: How do you see the metaverse fitting into the development of Qatar’s MICE sector and Tourism sector? How does Doha’s tech help you in the MICE sector and Tourism Sector?
PD: One of Qatar’s strategic pillar’s is technology, and the country is committed to being at the forefront with major developments such as the smart cities of Lusail and Msheireb Downtown Doha. We also have a purpose built esports gaming arena called Virtuocity. Esports and a drive to host major esports events is a part of our strategy and we will be integrating the metaverse into our plans.
BTN: When do you anticipate the MICE sector returning to pre-pandemic levels?
PD: I’ve been to recent summits with the largest event organisers in the world and they’re all seeing strong demand so there’s clearly pent up demand as we’re seeing with holidays. Businesses want to get back to face-to-face with their clients, something you can’t do virtually. The challenge will be the end-to-end experience for delegates as many airlines and airports struggle to “staff and operationalise” back up. Thankfully as Qatar Airways continued to fly throughout the pandemic and Hamad International Airport remained fully operational we’re in a great position to take advantage of that demand.
BTN: How do you see Qatar’s MICE sector evolving over the next decade?
PD: MICE will continue to be a strong sector as suppliers will always prefer to personally meet their customers face-to-face, companies and industry sectors will also continue to want have conferences and run incentives. Major events like sports will also continue to happen. What lockdowns have shown though is how virtual can work and although I don’t believe it will detract from the resurgence in MICE physical events, it will add value to companies wanting to connect departments of their business. They perhaps weren’t all attending events previously but can now be involved in new virtual summits – for example the technology and innovation teams as their sales teams go and sell at physical trade shows.