Last month's Asian Games went on as scheduled, just as they have every four years since 1951. By the name of the event, one would assume that the games are held each year in Asia, perhaps somewhere in China or Japan. Not this year.
The 15th Asian Games were held in Doha,
the capital city of Qatar, a
Middle Eastern peninsula that juts 100 miles out into the Persian Gulf off of
its southern neighbor, Saudi
Arabia. It was the first time the Games were
held in the region since 1974, when Tehran
is considered both part of the Middle East and western Asia, the selection of Qatar to host
the Games was met by ridicule and disdain by many of the other countries vying
for the honor. Invariably, their reasoning was the same: Qatar's wealth
influenced the selection.
Yes, Qatar is the richest Arab nation per capita—it has the
highest gross domestic product in the developing world, primarily due to oil
exports—and while that might be a detriment to other countries contending to
host sporting events, the new wealth has been a windfall for Qatar's tourism
industry, which has welcomed a steady influx of leisure travelers over the past
decade, aided by the creation of the Qatar Tourism Authority in 2000.
Needless to say, the vast oil and gas reserves have always
made Qatar a center for
business travel, but the expansion of DohaInternationalAirport and the
construction of additional infrastructure in preparation for the Asian Games
will serve as an enabler for future leisure travel.
Entertainment City: 2009 Debut
One of the biggest undertakings serving to spur Qatar's tourism industry was last month's
announcement, which ran concurrently with the Asian Games, of a $3 billion
development called EntertainmentCity, slated for
completion by 2009. The plan is at the center of Qatar's
new Lusail development, which is essentially a new city
being built just to the north of Doha.
The development will abut a large blue water lagoon with two
marinas and will house many other facilities, including two golf courses. Abu
Dhabi Investment House is behind EntertainmentCity, which will be a
3.9-square-mile mixed-use development consisting of hospitality, leisure and
recreational facilities. The destination will have theme parks, themed hotels,
shopping, restaurants, a water park and a cinema complex.
Rashad Janahi, CEO of Abu Dhabi Investment House, said the
planned development would add momentum to Qatar's tourism boom and serve to
attract a broad demographic of visitors.
Accommodating new visitors to the region is one thing Qatar will be
equipped to do over the next couple of years. As it stands now, hotels in the Doha area are relatively
expensive due in part to low supply. However, that will all change by the end
of the decade. With 40 confirmed hotel projects in the hopper, Doha will more than triple its supply of
hotel rooms in the next two years. By the end of 2007, there will be more than
8,000 new rooms in the area, and the 2009 addition of EntertainmentCity
will set the hotel room count at 15,000 rooms.
Yet, Jacky Keith, president of Esplanade Tours in Boston, still thinks Qatar
is more of a stopover attraction for U.S.
travelers on their way to India
while Europeans consider it a destination in itself.
"Americans are not using it as a destination yet,"
Keith says. "I've booked a few nights there for travelers on their way to India. But the
country has a lot of money, so it could become a destination, like Dubai, for U.S.
travelers down the line."