Following Qatar's Successful Staging Of The FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar Tourism COO Berthold Trenkel Believes The Nation's Appeal As A Tourist Destination Is Primed For Growth "H.H. Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, always points out that Qatar is a family destination."
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It may seem like the nations that make up the GCC are competing amongst each other when trying to lure tourists to the region, but according to Qatar Tourism COO Berthold Trenkel, each of the countries in this bloc have unique offerings that are specific to themselves, and that's the reason for his continued confidence in the positioning of the nation that he represents. "I think that we are all chasing different things, and if I could summarize where Qatar stands out, it is [in] the topic of family," Trenkel says, in an interview with Entrepreneur Middle East on the sidelines of this year's edition of Arabian Travel Market in May. "H.H. Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, always points out that Qatar is a family destination, and this means that we don't have to compete in every space, but that we have our own strength. We will, therefore, keep reinforcing our offering that is more family-oriented, more family-friendly, in addition to premium to luxury segments."
Although the Travel and Tourism Development Index 2021 Report by the World Economic Forum, which evaluated 117 destinations on factors such as development, sustainability, and resiliency of tourism, placed Qatar on the high third place in the MENA region (and 44th globally), the country and its tourism sector have experienced a massive transformation since then. Indeed, the successful delivery of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar was a culmination of decade's worth of preparation that resulted in many first-time visitors to the nation, as well as a huge rebound in arrivals from key regional markets.
"The FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar really helped to shift brand metrics, and we now really have new brand measurements in 15 areas," says Trenkel. "In our Q1 results for this year, I can see jumps in the measurements such as brand awareness, but the most interesting one is that the biggest change in our brand recognition happened in India. Even though India didn't participate in the World Cup, it happening in close proximity [to the nation], resulting in its people engaging much more than they might have in some other World Cup happening in some other part of the world. The second big jump was China, and although none of us thinks of China as a football nation, but because it is a big country, even if 10% of a country that big watched the World Cup 2022, it brought us more spectators than from many other parts of the world." Trenkel is also appreciative of the global event helping break several erroneous notions about Qatar around the world, with one example being people's concerns around safety in the country. "Only when people come do they realize how safe this country is," he says. "With many media spending time here, we had this misconception changed significantly."
Today, Trenkel and his team are focused on achieving new goals, including to welcome 6-7 million visitors annually, increase employment in the tourism sector, and have tourism account for 12% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). "You have the Qatar National Vision 2030, and under it, the Qatar National Government Strategy, which then has Plan 1 and Plan 2. Both of those finished in 2022, and they were about getting us to the 2022 World Cup," Trenkel explains. "Now, we are focused on Plan 3 which looks at how we can grow new sectors, including tourism, financial services, and a bunch of other things."
The Pearl, Doha, Qatar. Source: Qatar Tourism
This next stage, Trenkel adds, will be built on the solid foundations that come from the fact that the major infrastructural projects in the country have been completed- the Doha Metro in 2019, as well as the Hamad International Airport's expansion in 2022, to name but a few. "One thing that we are doing now in collaboration with [the nation's official airline] Qatar Airways is to target markets and audiences together, because, at the end of the day, most travelers will end up flying with Qatar Airways, and then we want to prolong that good experience they have on the flight [Qatar Airways was declared Skytrax's Airline of the Year 2022, the only airline awarded for a record seventh time] with what they experience once they land in the country," Trenkel continues. "That's a new way to commercially cooperate, and we can do this because we have a strong home carrier, which is also a global airline, a global player. This puts us in a position that not everyone has."
Trenkel continues that the third stage, Plan 3, will therefore build upon the FIFA World Cup 2022 helping highlight Qatar's growing reputation as a world-class destination for travellers seeking unique experiences. "So, we now work on opening people's eyes to what they can do in this destination," Trenkel explains. "If I ask what you can do in Tokyo, or in Paris, you would have a stereotypical list, whereas for the Middle East, it would not be clear. We now have some work to do on educating the audience about what activities they can enjoy when in Qatar." Focusing on "different unforgettable experiences" will also help Qatar to unlock the potential of the tourism sector to contribute to employment. "Pre COVID-19, the tourism sector was at about 6% of GDP, and our goal is for it to be 12% of GDP by the end of the decade."
Al Maha Island, Doha, Qatar. Source: Qatar Tourism
Trenkel believes that the success of this approach will lie in how it's executed, and as an example, he points out Qatar Tourism's ongoing efforts to grow the country's cruise line industry. "The cruise ships business has been growing since 1960/70s, but at the time, Qatar didn't have a cruise terminal, so the first ships would dock in the morning, people would spend a day in the country, and come back to the ship in the evening. That did not contribute to the economy that much," Trenkel recalls. "We have now started what we call a turnaround boarding, which means that people fly in with Qatar Airways, then they board a cruise ship, and we have gone from 0%, to 20% of the market share. This was only about connecting the airline and the cruise ship that were already there, and making it into one, frictionless experience."
Another sector that is also expected to contribute to furthering Qatar's tourism agenda is the F&B sector. "We have a very interesting plan to launch a rating program for restaurants in order to help restaurants to become better in their overall experience," Trenkel says. "Our work is now about how to put a pressure on these people to do better, but also how to recognize those who are already doing it well. Thus, we'll also launch an awards program to reward the good ones." And while such initiatives get spearheaded, Trenkel believes that they will also bring many opportunities for entrepreneurs in the tourism sector. "If you look at the value chain of big hotels, there is the asset owner, the operator, and then there are certain pockets where one can find and seize opportunities," Trenkel explains. "Over the last three years, we've looked at different experiences and activities and we found that there is room for vendors to enhance their offerings. We are interested in this because the experiences that these vendors provide (or not) add to the overall evaluation of the destination, and the quality of life here."
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar. Source: Qatar Tourism
At the end of it all, Trenkel points out, all of the projects that Qatar Tourism is embarking on is aimed at realizing a singular goal- which is to ensure tourists visiting Qatar have a pleasurable experience that begins with their entry into the country, and continues throughout their stay. "We want visitor satisfaction at all points to be really good," Trenkel concludes.