Updated to include tour timings, pricing and route details released by QTA.
Tourists and residents in Qatar will soon be able to get a bird’s eye view of Doha’s fast-changing landscape with the launch of helicopter tours across the capital.
Operated by Gulf Helicopters from its base at Doha International Airport (Qatar’s former commercial airport), each 35 minute flight will take up to four passengers at a time.
Flights will follow a pre-determined route to pass Al Shamal Road, Sidra Medical and Research Center, West Bay Lagoon, the Pearl-Qatar and the Corniche before heading back to the heliport.
Tours will take place on Fridays and Saturdays at three different times: 2pm, 3pm and 3:55pm and will all be conducted using a Bell 206L3 helicopter, QTA has confirmed.
Regency Travel will operate the marketing and ticket sales of the service, with tickets starting from QR3,300. Those riding the helicopter can purchase individual tickets or reserve the entire helicopter, the tourism authority has said.
To compare, a similar city skyline helicopter tour in Dubai costs Dh1,250 per person for a 25-minute flight, or Dh5,000 to charter a helicopter for six passengers.
Helicopter tours are the latest in a series of recent moves taken by the QTA to develop and expand Qatar’s tourism offerings.
In February, QTA released a new tourism strategy that outlined plans to increase the number of visitors who come to Qatar five-fold – from 1.2 million in 2012 to 7.4 million by 2030.
Qatar has increasingly become a popular holiday destination for tourists from other Gulf countries. GCC visitors make up at least 40 percent of all arrivals, with half of these from Saudi Arabia alone.
Events such as the Souq Waqif festivals, Katara’s Dhow Boat Festival and Eid festivities are particularly popular.
However, the QTA also hopes to widen Qatar’s appeal beyond the region, encouraging more international visitors from Europe and Asia.
According to the strategy, the government and the private sector will collectively spend between $40 billion and $45 billion (QR145.66 billion to QR163.87 billion) in joint efforts on new tourism-related products and programs, such as upgrading the country’s public beaches, organizing luxury cruises and developing a centralized sports calendar and ticketing service.
Earlier this year, QTA announced it was planning to introduce stricter safety standards for desert safaris as part of a range of improvements to regulate tourism services.
Dune bashing and desert drives are a popular activity, but are currently run by private companies, who are not subject to set standards.
Governed by new safety regulations, QTA said it was planning to introduce a new 4×4 leasing company that could rent out a fleet of vehicles to desert safari tour operators.
Successful bidders would receive financial assistance and free marketing to help them get off the ground.
This was one of six new ventures that the tourism authority announced in March it would partly-fund, as it looked to widen the number of activities on offer for tourists. The others included a dinner-dhow cruise, a centralized online ticketing service and a roving handicraft market.
Meanwhile, QTA has also helped developed Qatar’s first tour guide training program, in conjunction with Stenden University Qatar (SUQ), which specializes in tourism and hospitality management, in a bid to raise customer service levels.
The first batch of 15 Qatari and Qatar-born bilingual guides graduated from the 16-week long course in July this year, and are working at key locations including in key locations Hamad International Airport, the Abu Samra border post with Saudi Arabia and the new port.
A number of new resorts are also in the pipeline. Banana Island resort, by Thai-based Anantara looks set to open as early as next month.
Located on an island near Hamad International Airport, the resort can be accessed by boat and will feature 141 rooms, suites, pool villas and villas built over the water on stilts.
It will also include a spa, numerous sporting facilities, a putting course, bowling alley and dive center, according to the company’s website.
Meanwhile, there are plans to develop a Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas close to the Qatar-Saudi border, off of Salwa Road.
The 362-room resort, which will be owned by Al Rayyan Hospitality, will be constructed on 257 acres of land and is set to include a water park, marina, dive center, cinemas, pools, health club, spa and considerable retail space. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019.