A sharp rise in visitors from Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia helped push the number of tourists to Qatar up 8.3 percent last year to 1.3 million, fresh government figures show.
But despite seeing an additional 100,000 guests in 2013, media reports and official statistics from around the Gulf show that Qatar still lags behind most of its GCC neighbors in attracting tourists.
The 2013 Qatar Tourism Statistics Report was released yesterday and comes amid a major government push to boost tourism, as a way of diversifying the economy and enhancing the country’s international image.
In February, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) set a goal of attracting between 6.7 million and 7.4 million visitors by 2030 and pledged to spend billions of dollars developing the sector in large part by subsidizing new attractions and training more hospitality workers.
In a statement, Hassan Al-Ibrahim, QTA’s director of strategy development said:
“2013 was a turning point in the history of the tourism industry in Qatar. Stakeholders are engaged and the private sector is leading the change in the sector.”
However, despite last year’s increase, recent figures from around the Gulf show Qatar still trails most of its neighbors in attracting tourists. This country’s 1.3 million tourists in 2013 is lower than most other destinations in the region:
- With its important religious sites, Saudi Arabia leads the region, having attracted nearly 17.5 million guests in 2012;
- In the UAE, Dubai’s hotels reported 11 million guests last year, while Abu Dhabi recorded 2.8 million tourists in 2013;
- Some 8 million people – half of which were Saudi – visited Bahrain in 2012;
- Nearly 2.1 million tourists visited Oman last year.
Published figures for Kuwait, which had the dubious distinction of being named one of 10 unfriendliest nations for tourists by the World Economic Forum (WEF) last year, were not immediately available. However, its goal of attracting 1 million tourists by 2015 indicates it likely ranks below Qatar.
Nonetheless, a report issued last year suggests Qatar is poised to make up ground on its peers. In the WEF’s 2013 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report, Qatar ranked 41st in the world for its attractiveness and ability to develop its travel and tourism industries.
That’s behind the UAE (28th) but still ahead of Bahrain (55th), Oman (57th), Saudi Arabia (62nd) and Kuwait (101st).
Who’s coming to Qatar?
GCC residents currently make up the bulk of visitors here. Local tourism officials have said they want that to change in the coming years, and are aiming to increase the number of guests coming from non-Gulf nations to 64 percent (as opposed to the 16 percent in 2013.)
In general, tourists from further abroad have a greater economic impact on a destination as they tend to spend more nights in hotels, are more likely to shop, eat out at restaurants and visit paid-admission attractions.
However, the latest figures show the proportion of GCC tourists to Qatar is actually increasing.
The number of visitors from the region rose 14.4 percent last year, more than the overall number of tourists.
The current breakdown of guests arriving on tourist or business visas is:
- GCC: 1,090,239 visitors;
- Asia: 152,476 visitors;
- Europe: 35,861 visitors;
- Non-GCC Arab countries: 34,093 visitors; and
- Africa: 4,045 visitors.
The QTA also released several figures about the performance of hotels across the country:
- Average occupancy rate rose to 65 percent from 60 percent, even as the supply of hotel rooms increased;
- Revenues at four and five-star hotels increased by 13 percent to QR3.58 billion (US$980 million). Four and 5-star hotels make up 86 percent of Qatar’s rooms (11,717 of 13,551 rooms);
- Some 124 hotels are currently planned, which if constructed would add an additional 21,402 rooms, suites and units to the market.
Here’s QTA’s visual breakdown of the report: