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Complete Qatar: Where a ‘Shukran’ goes a long way

Urban Land Institute event coordinator Agnes Gomori joined C&IT, Qatar Tourism Authority and a host of international associations and event agencies for Complete Qatar, a four-day familiarisation and educational visit to Doha. Gomori shares her first impressions on the destination for C&I Traveller, while outlining the benefits for potential large-scale events.

What is the first destination coming to mind when planning an event in the Middle East? For most events planners, Dubai and Abu Dhabi would come up as an obvious choice.

Qatar might be a lesser known destination, but no doubt it is about to change. I’ve got my first taste of the Middle East when in early November I was invited to take part in the ‘Complete Qatar’ destination experience organised by C&IT and Qatar Tourism Authority.

So, what does Qatar have to offer? Besides the year-round sunshine, friendly locals and authentic food, the country is one of the top five safest places to visit in the world.

For me, what stood out right away is that the Qataris are take pride in keeping to their traditions and in fact recognising it as one of the main selling points when it comes to promoting their country. And rightly so: during our five-day trip we visited numerous sites such as the Qatar National Convention Centre, with its breath-taking design and facilities, not to mention the QNCC’s friendly and professional staff or the ever so elegant The Ritz-Carlton, Doha. Again, the staff here went the extra mile to make us feel welcomed and surprised us with an evening picnic in the hotel’s spacious, exotic garden.

Qatar National Convention Centre

Qatar National Convention Centre

It was clear that Qatar doesn’t feel the need to ‘copycat’ the western world in order to attract western business. They provide excellent venues for conferences, exhibitions that can comfortably accommodate up to 5,000 delegates, but the are happy to host small meetings and seminars, too. And, as a standard the majority of meeting rooms are equipped with state of the art technology.

Qatar has world famous horse breeding traditions and we were lucky enough to visit Al Shaqab, where we could admire some of the Arabian horses close-up. Later in the day we took part in a Desert Safari excursion where we were divided into small groups to go for dune bashing. I must admit this was one of the only activities I was afraid of, but once I was there the excitement of my fellow ‘dune bashers’ quickly caught on. We stopped in the desert to watch the sunset, and then returned to the desert camp where there was an opportunity to have our picture taken with the camels. We finished our day with a BBQ on a Dhow Cruise.

Out of the 2.3 million of Qatar’s population nearly 90% are expats, so why is Doha not more known yet as a destination? As we learnt from Embrace Doha, Arabian specialists, while visiting Souq Waqif, after the discovery of oil, the Qataris no longer had to rely on the fishing industry, but it was only in the 1970s after the country gained independence that the first hotel was built in Doha. Still it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Qatar stared to attract foreign business investors, which was down to the fact that the hotel sector started to develop in a the rapid manner.

While we had our tour around the Souq Waqif, we visited the Falcon Hospital where we learnt that the Qataris keep falcons not as a hobby but as an investment. As our tour guide told us: “A single with a high breed falcon and a good sword is a considered to be a ‘good catch’ for women looking to marry”

Doha skyline seen through the arches at the Museum of Islamic art, Doha, Qatar

Doha skyline seen through the arches at the Museum of Islamic art, Doha, Qatar

And this is something that Qatar prides itself: Doha doesn’t want to become just a tourist attraction. Its main focus is on attracting business events and business visitors while carefully keeping to their traditions.

In Doha there was never a danger of the city showing itself as being too touristy or cliché. It was beautifully demonstrated when visiting the Museum of Islamic Art.

And as for the high quality hospitality, we were spoiled by our host Grant Hyatt Doha not just by the great selection of authentic food they provided but also the spacious rooms with a tranquilising view.

Lastly I’d like to thank Qatar Airways for flying us to Doha. Out of all the long haul flights this was the first time I didn’t suffer from jetlag apparently is was down to the air quality on the flight!

As you have guessed, I’ll be back!