By Gary Noakes | May 2015 | 6 minute read
Few people currently choose Qatar for an out and out week’s holiday, but due to its airline and growing reputation as a sporting destination, a good number of UK travellers are choosing it for stopovers or short breaks. Qatar is a great alternative for those who consider Dubai’s lights too bright.
“Doha isn’t Dubai. If clients are curious about the emerging Gulf countries and want a more manageable, brief glimpse of Arab wealth, culture and architecture, Qatar is the place”
GARY NOAKES, TRAVEL WRITER
See it all: You can do Doha in two or three nights, including a desert trip, making it an ideal stopover
Top-notch hotels: Almost all Qatar’s hotels are relatively new and four- or five-star. Many are iconic designs
Fab food: Most of Qatar’s population isn’t Qatari, so expect global cuisine. Big names include Gordon Ramsay and Nobu
State of the art airport: Hamad International operates far short of capacity, so expect all mod cons and few crowds
Culture: If Dubai is bling, Qatar is more cerebral, with at least four major museums under construction. Meanwhile, the Museum of Islamic Art dazzles by itself
Easy to get around: The capital - in fact the whole country - is small and taxis are cheap
Desert fun: Plummeting down huge sand dunes in a 4x4 a short drive from Doha is a must
The Pearl: Dubai doesn’t have the monopoly on man-made islands and The Pearl is the place for designer shops and high-end restaurants
Go to the Races: Camel racing, featuring robot jockeys on the track outside Doha, is a quirky and exciting evening out
Local insight: The Sheikh Faisal Museum in the desert near Doha houses an extensive vintage car collection plus reconstructed houses and the world’s smallest Koran
Why book now?
Despite much controversy, Qatar will host the World Cup in 2022. In oil-rich Qatar, money is no object and the estimated construction spend will be $200 billion – that’s four times that of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the costliest-ever Games.
Another huge sum is being spent on cultural attractions including a spectacular National Museum.
What the experts say
“The UK ranks as Qatar’s largest European source market and British tourist numbers are continuing to grow steadily, with 135,457 arrivals in 2014. Our target is 151,000 by 2018. The number of UK tour operators featuring Qatar has increased from 17 in 2012 to 41 going into 2015.
“In terms of trade activity, we continue to raise awareness of the Tawash online training programme to educate front line sales staff. We are further launching strategic tour operator and media partnerships and organising familiarisation trips.”
RASHED AL-QURESE, QATAR TOURISM AUTHORITY MARKETING DIRECTOR, QATAR TOURISM
“Qatar is unlikely to be what you are expecting, it’s not the new Dubai; it’s a country with a unique character. “Doha is fast becoming the cultural capital of the Middle East and Qatar’s cultural assets mean it appeals to mature clients. But it’s also making inroads into the family market, with openings like Ritz Carlton’s Sharq Village and Anantara’s Banana Island.”
ROB MASON, SENIOR TRAVEL CONSULTANT, EUROPE, MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA, ABERCROMBIE & KENT
Airlines: Qatar Airways increased its Edinburgh-Doha flight to daily on May 1, 2015, having launched the previous November.
Accommodation: Anantara is claiming a Middle East first with 11 over-water villas at its new Banana Island Resort, 20 minutes by ferry from Doha. It features an Anantara Signature Spa, its first Wellness Centre in the Middle East.
Kempinski Hotels opened Marsa Malaz Kempinski, a private island development on The Pearl, in February.
Other developments: Qatar will spend $20 billion on infrastructure by 2022, including the new Doha Metro and extensive hotel projects. Two urban developments, Musheireb and Lusail City, will add accommodation, retail and entertainment options. Next year sees the opening of the new National Museum of Qatar (Qm.org.qa) designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.
Where to book it
Lowcostholidays.com offers three nights at the Hilton Doha from £1,074. It includes Turkish Airlines flights from Manchester via Istanbul.
Qatar Airways flights, three nights at Sharq Village & Spa, private transfers and a day private tour of Doha is from £1,325pp with Abercrombie & Kent.
A 12-day Dubai & The Arabian Peninsula tour from Tauck is from £4,695pp, beginning in Qatar. Included is a tour to Doha’s Al Shaqab Equestrian Centre, a dhow cruise and seaplane tour of Dubai’s skyline. The price includes most meals but excludes international flights.
Seabourn Cruises’ 18-day Holy Land & Arabian Gems itinerary begins at Piraeus on October 31 and enters the Suez Canal, calling at Muscat and Doha before finishing in Dubai. From £3,699pp based on double occupancy.