Qatar is upping the competition for museum enthusiasts and art lovers as well as football fanatics.
The Qatar Museums Authority yesterday awarded Hyundai Engineering & Construction a US$434 million (Dh1.59 billion) contract to build the Qatar National Museum in Doha.
The South Korean company said it would take 33 months to finish the building, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel.
Mr Nouvel is also the designer of the branch of the Louvre Museum under development on Saadiyat Island, where Abu Dhabi is building its own cultural attractions. Saadiyat will also be the home to the UAE's National Museum and a branch of the Guggenheim Museum designed by another renowned architect, Frank Gehry.
Qatar made international headlines by earning the right to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, and the announcement last month of its bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics. But cultural tourism is a much different sport with different stakes. The prize is a growing segment of regional touristsseeking attractions closer to home.
"There is a whole group of tourists who don't have the interest or funds to travel outside the region," said Rob O'Hanlon, an Oman-based partner in Deloitte. Unlike the World Cup and other sporting events, which attract tourists for a short time, cultural sites are year-round draws, Mr O'Hanlon said. "The key is widening the offering to make it worthwhile [for tourists] to spend the cost."
Qatar is currently a bit player on the regional tourism scene. It attracted a million tourists last year compared to 13 million for Egypt, 12 million in Saudi Arabia and nine million in the UAE, according to Euromonitor International.
Qatar's National Museum will join the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha designed by IM Pei, which opened in 2008, as well as the Arab Museum of Modern Art, which opened in the Qatari capital last December.
A photography museum is also under development.