Qatar conference goers will likely find themselves in Doha’s financial district more often after the country’s newest convention center launches in November.
The QR2.3 billion (US$631.81 million) Doha Exhibition and Convention Center (DECC) is located opposite City Center Mall.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s first trade show building near Katara Cultural Village is expected to close down permanently, officials said.
The DECC’s event hall is nearly double the size of the old Doha Exhibition Center (DEC) and was built to accommodate a forecasted growth in the number of business conferences coming to Qatar.
It was also supposed to be home to one of the world’s tallest towers, but after several delays plans for that structure have now been scrapped.
By offering a brand-new facility in the center of Doha’s business district, close to multiple hotels and with plenty of onsite parking – some of which will be available for public use – DECC officials said they hope to attract more exhibitions and trade shows to the country.
“DECC places Qatar in a prime position to steal an even greater share of the GCC events market,” Jose Vicente, the facility’s CEO, told journalists during a media tour earlier today.
“Qatar is a thriving and hugely desirable location for international business events and exhibitions and with the addition of the (DECC) … it will be an even stronger contender on the global stage.”
Approximately 70 percent of Qatar’s foreign visitors are in town for business events, according to Hamad Al Abdan, director of exhibitions at the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA). The organization predicts 3 million tourists will come to the Gulf country by the end of this year.
Though DECC officials emphasized that they aim to attract new business to Qatar, some of the initial events confirmed to take place there have previously being held at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC), including the Qatar Motor Show and the Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition.
The DECC’s first event, the Civil Defense expo that begins on Nov. 2, was also previously held at the QNCC.
Speaking to reporters today, DECC officials said it would be “good” for multiple venues to compete for the growing amount of business coming to Qatar. They added that they expect some 60 events to be hosted at their facility through to the end of 2016.
QNCC officials were not immediately available to comment.
Meanwhile, the fate of the Doha Exhibition Center building by Katara remains unclear. QTA officials said it was no longer operational, but did not elaborate on what would become of the structure.
Like other exhibition halls around the world, the DECC has been designed as a “blank canvas” for event organizers.
One of its key features is a lack of columns typically used to support a structure’s roof. This will give conference planners more flexibility, and the ability to bring large vehicles or machinery through the 11m-high door into the exhibition space.
The main hall is 29,000sqm in total, but can be partitioned with soundproof walls into five different areas. For smaller groups, several conference rooms as well as a lounge for hosting VIP guests overlook the main hall.
Atop the 18m ceiling – which DECC officials say is the highest among all exhibition halls in the Middle East – are more than 330 “sun wells” that allow natural light into the building. The ceiling wells also feature LED lights that can change color and even flash.
“We could create the biggest disco in the Middle East,” joked Gary Robinson, DECC’s director of sales and marketing.
No more tower
Underneath the DECC is a parking garage capable of accommodating 2,815 vehicles. While sections of the car park will be reserved for exhibitors and guests during events, the public will be able to use the remaining spaces for a yet-to-be-determined fee.
With the north side of the building directly opposite City Center mall used for exhibitors to load and unload supplies, attendees arriving by vehicle will be dropped off on the south side of the DECC, where there is also space for some 200 taxis to queue.
The launch of the DECC comes more than two years after its projected opening date. Vicente said this was due in large part to changes in the design of the facility, which was originally supposed to include a 112-story tower on the east side of the property.
Work was halted in 2012 amid concerns that the building, which would have been among the world’s tallest, would interfere with airplane traffic.
However, Vicente said the land would instead be used for a second phase containing a convention center and multipurpose hall.
Officials are also still looking at constructing an underground tunnel that connects the DECC to Sheraton Park.
That development sits atop a large underground car park and is nearly a year behind its scheduled completion date.
The media tour of the new DECC comes as the QTA released new figures on Qatar’s popularity as a tourist destination.
Approximately 2.25 million people visited Qatar during the first nine months of 2015, up 8 percent over the same period last year.
As in past quarters, other GCC countries and Saudi Arabia in particular remain Qatar’s largest sources of visitors.
Though more than a dozen new hotels opened their doors in the past year, occupancy rates during the first nine months of the year held steady at 71 percent, QTA said.
Real estate watchers are watching closely if hoteliers can continue filling their rooms as the country rapidly expands its accommodation options ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Several observers have suggested that the country will face a surplus of hotel rooms in the immediate run-up and aftermath of the football tournament.