Qatar looks to boost technology and tourism sectors after buzz of World Cup

More people are travelling to the country after it hosted the football tournament last year

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Eight stadiums, 64 enthralling matches, 1.4 million fans, 12 years of preparation and a $220 billion grand sporting event. The 2022 Fifa World Cup put the spotlight on Qatar as it worked to diversify its economy by focusing on the tourism and sports technology sectors.

More than two months after the curtain came down on the football tournament, two questions remain: how is Qatar using the attention it gained? And what does the future look like for its developing sectors?

“Just after the World Cup, for about 15 days, we felt the country was empty. But then the cruise ships came and soon the other tourists trickled in,” said Boutayna Iraqi, a tour guide with 365 Adventures in Doha.

“By February, we were doing brisk business again.”

Before the World Cup, Qatar’s tourism report for the first half of 2022 showed nearly a million people visited the country from abroad.

The overall attendance at World Cup matches was 3.4 million, the Qatar News Agency reported.

Even after the World Cup buzz settled down, the country registered a “healthy growth” of visitors, with 3,559,063 people arriving on flights in January 2023, air transport statistics released by Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority showed.

It marked a 64.4 per cent increase from the same period in 2022.

“Apart from regular tourists, we have had many groups of tour operators in the past two months, many of whom came on a recce to explore Qatar as a travel destination," Ms Iraqi said.

After every World Cup, business in the host country dips for at least six months, but Qatar "did surprisingly well”, said Sharif Massouh, a tour guide who runs Murex Activities and Tours in Doha.

“There has been an increase in demand for stadium tours. The prices for most activities are much lower now so more people are interested.

"With more sports events lined up, our hopes have increased. My business has definitely doubled vis-a-vis pre-pandemic numbers.”

Qatar now aims to attract six million visitors a year by 2030 and increase the contribution of the tourism sector to its gross domestic product from 7 per cent to 12 per cent.

Doha was recently recognised as the Arab Tourism Capital 2023 by the Arab Tourism Organisation.

The Qatar government is “particularly focused” on attracting tourists from outside the Middle East, said Nada Farouk, founder and chief executive at Turismo, an innovation-driven tourism platform.

“This includes initiatives like easing visa restrictions and investing in marketing campaigns to promote Qatar as a premium destination," she said.

"The government is also working to develop new attractions and experiences that will appeal to a diverse range of visitors.”

While Mr Massouh hopes it will become “much easier” for tourists to enter the country, Ms Iraqi is keen to see more structuring in the tourism sector.

“I also expect to see better promotion and marketing of Qatar as a tourism hub in the future,” she said.

The World Cup gave a “huge boost of confidence to the local hospitality industry”, said Martin Kendall, the general manager of City Centre Rotana, which is among the leading hotels in Doha.

“All the economic predictions, including the tourism ambitions, point to a growth trajectory … we will see more emphasis than ever on service delivery right across the value chain.”

He is also optimistic that the “new segment” of customers who visited the region for the first time during the World Cup, returned home “telling tales of discovery, great service and an exciting destination”.

Future investments

Qatar’s $450 billion sovereign wealth fund said last month it was looking to rebalance its portfolio and was considering investments in football, finance and technology.

In the run-up to the World Cup, sports technology got a big push from the state, with organisations including Qatar SportsTech and Qatar Development Bank providing support and funding to develop cutting-edge technology in the field.

Mohammad Ali Abbaspour, founder and chief executive of Sponix Tech, whose company has developed immersive match replay and virtual advertisement tools, believes other sports will adopt its technology.

“In the future, our technologies will spread out across different sports. We are ready for padel, tennis, basketball, handball and ice hockey. We have been approached for cricket, too. That is again a big market,” he said.

With a series of big sporting events lined up in Qatar, including the Asian Games in 2030, and many others to be held in the region, the country is ready to become a global centre of sports tech, Mr Abbaspour said.

Ms Farouk said technology would have an increasing role in Qatar’s tourism sector in the coming years, but with a focus on sustainable innovation.

“We are developing cutting-edge technologies to keep up with the transformation in the sector by introducing more personalised end-to-end experiences powered by AI for our users,” she said.

The tech and tourism sectors are set to grow in the country, Mr Kendall said.

“More competitive offerings can only be good for the industry in Qatar at large," he said.

Updated: March 06, 2023, 3:04 AM