The growth of Qatar’s tourism industry slowed last year, according to new government figures that showed the country was just shy of its 3 million visitor goal in 2015.
Some 2.93 million tourist visits were made to Qatar last year, signifying an increase of nearly 3.7 percent.
That’s 100,000 more compared to 2014 figures when there were 2,826,257, but the overall growth is significantly less than the 8.2 percent that Qatar saw from 2013-2014.
In its Annual Tourism Performance Report 2015 that it released yesterday, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) described the state as “showing resilience” as a developing tourist destination despite what it said were “global developments which have adversely affected travel patterns.”
QTA uses the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTWO) definition of “visitor” as a traveler making a business, leisure or personal trip for an overnight stay or as a same-day visitor, but not those traveling to be employed by a resident entity in the destination country.
The figures cited relate to the total number of visits made to Qatar under the UNWTO classification, rather than the distinct number of people.
So a person who traveled to the country three times last year would increase the visit score by three, rather than one, a QTA spokesperson told Doha News.
Visit numbers from most regions of the world were up from last year, especially from other Gulf nations.
Tourism from those countries accounted for 44 percent of overall visitors to Qatar.
That’s up 16 percent from the previous year, or more than 1.3 million people.
People from Saudi Arabia comprised more than a fifth of all guests, or some 855,555 visits last year.
In recent years, Qatar has been focusing on making the state an attractive destination for Gulf visitors, particularly during Ramadan and Eid and school holidays by establishing festivals at Souq Waqif and Katara Cultural Village.
In terms of other parts of the world, visit numbers were:
- Europe – up 4 percent to 437,122;
- Americas – up 1 percent to 145,555; and
- Non-Arab African countries – up 5 percent to 36,364.
Qatar seems to be an increasingly attractive place for visitors from the United Kingdom, as the number of British tourists rose to 135,645 last year, making the UK the third most significant country in terms of arrival numbers.
Possibly reflecting the ongoing political issues in the region, visits from other Arab countries were down 14 percent to 274,530.
While tourist numbers from Asia including Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand) also recorded a fall of 6 percent to 735,841, Qatar appears to be luring more Chinese visitors, which saw an increase of 15 percent in travelers last year, QTA said in a statement.
QTA had been hoping to reach a target of 3 million visitors during 2015, as a milestone on its way to achieving its ambitious goal of attracting between 6.7 million and 7.4 million tourists annually by 2030.
The year’s rise in visitor numbers fell well-short of the 10 percent growth QTA Chairman Issa Al Mohannadi said he hoped for, in a statement last summer.
Despite the slower growth, construction of new hotels and apartment-hotels continues apace, with Qatar aiming to build a total of 69 new tourist establishments – 56 hotels and 13 apartment-hotels – in the next five years, before it hosts the World Cup in 2022.
A total of 20 new hotels and hotel-apartments opened their doors during 2015, bringing with them more than 6,000 additional rooms.
As a result, the number of hotels and apartment-hotels in Qatar has risen to 119, with more than 20,000 rooms.
These included Banana Island resort, the Marsa Malaz Kempinksi on the Pearl, the Melia Doha and the Shangri La in Dafna/West Bay.
QTA said it expects the same increase in hotel openings through 2016, with another 20 forecast to open their doors during the year, bringing an additional 4,000 rooms online.
While it didn’t name the hotels, this is expected to include the Westin Doha in Al Muntazah, which is planned to open to the public in just over a week’s time on Feb. 1, according to its website.
With the glut of new hotels and extra rooms, room occupancy rates and average room rates appear to have taken a bit of a hit.
According to QTA’s annual figures, the average occupancy rate for hotel rooms last year stood at 71 percent, which is lower than the 77.9 percent predicted earlier this year in a tourism report by PwC.
That study, which forecast a rise to 80.7 percent for Doha hotels through 2016, did also warn hoteliers that they may have to cut room rates to maintain high occupancy.
QTA’s report showed the average room rate across all standards of hotel establishments in Qatar stood at QR526 – much lower than the QR663 PwC estimated for the year.
Rooms in five-star hotels were obviously higher, at QR763, but the average cost of staying in a four-star hotel was significantly cheaper, at QR342, while a standard apartment rate was QR331.
A Qatar hotelier previously told Doha News that while the arrival of new hotels was helping to boost the state’s international tourism profile, it meant existing establishments would need to incentivize guests.
Speaking during the opening of the Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel on the Pearl-Qatar last September, general manager Wissam Suleiman said:
“Everyone will be looking for business, and I think everybody will be going to reduce their rates. In fact, this is starting to happen already. We have to have a good rate, to give the right opportunities for people to come here.”
Note: This article was edited to reflect QTA’s figures as visits, rather than individual visitors.