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Qatar is stepping up its game in time for the FIFA World Cup

Phil Dickinson at Seatrade Cruise Global in Miami in April
Qatar will leverage the enthusiasm brought by the 2022 FIFA World Cup in November to bolster its cruise tourism industry and encourage turnaround operations, just as Doha readies to launch its new Grand Cruise Terminal.

‘We’re getting some really strong feedback from our Experience A World Beyond (EAWB) campaign, our advert has had millions of views on YouTube and we're moving to our global campaign 2.0 to coincide with all the excitement and coverage of the World Cup,’ says Philip Dickinson, Qatar Tourism's head of global international markets development. ‘All eyes will be on Qatar so we’ll be doing as much as we can during commercial TV breaks to showcase what the country has to offer.’

Qatar Tourism’s EAWB campaign was launched hard within its key markets comprising some 18 core countries including the US, Europe (UK, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland), China, India and Australia. From billboard advertising in London’s Piccadilly Circus, New York’s Time Square and Italy’s Milan, it will continue to highlight Qatar’s main attractions such as its museums, traditional souks, malls and vibrant gastronomy scene across the likes of CNN, the BBC and National Geographic, as well as digitally.

‘People will come in their droves because they're passionate about football. It's going to sell itself because it's the biggest sporting event on the planet... the reality is, it's going to be a swarm of people in a modest-sized country for a fairly limited amount of time. So for us, it's about building on the momentum. We'll be left with a lot more as a destination: more hotels, new malls, new restaurants, new attractions…but we can’t sit on our laurels. We've got to say: how are we going to move from two million people during the World Cup to six or seven million in the next seven years? We're about the long-term vision.’


As part of that pledge, Qatar is eager for turnarounds with Dickinson expressing the view that the country holds a wealth of opportunity for operators. Tourism in the Middle East, says Dickinson, has been growing exponentially year on year in comparison with other regions. Plus, with Qatar Airways reaching 173 destinations, it offers vast opportunities to bring travellers from all corners of the globe. ‘We were always going to get some good stopovers,’ explains Dickinson, ‘but what we're trying to do is position Qatar to get more turnarounds or homeporting. That's the key thing for us, particularly knowing that we've got the new Grand Cruise Terminal being handed over to us in early 2023.’

In addition to MSC Cruises’ MSC Europa and MSC Poesia being chartered as floating accommodation in Doha, Emerald Cruises’ Emerald Azzurra is scheduled to homeport in the capital from January with Costa and TUI Cruises also looking to do more homeporting within the country. The latter was scheduled to homeport in both Dubai and Qatar last season, but plans were impacted as a consequence of the pandemic.

‘For the 2022-23 cruise season, we’re set to welcome between 220,000 and 250,000 passengers - basically pre-pandemic levels plus a bit more,’ notes Dickinson, after the destination received 220,000 cruise passengers through the 2019-20 season dropping almost half to 125,000 in 2020-21. ‘A lot of our key discussions now are on turnarounds and pre-and post-cruise, even…options of embarkation and disembarkation in Dubai, but also in Qatar. We've got an amazing route network with Qatar Airways, so it's very easy to fly cruise passengers in from multiple destinations.’

On developing Qatar’s relationships with other ports in the Middle East as well as more widely, it is ‘open to all collaborations’ where countries ‘can complement’ what the destination has to offer. ‘That could be doing more with Thailand, for example, because we feel it’s a very different type of destination to Qatar - people could stop over here and then go on to Thailand.

‘We're starting to work quite closely with Oman, as well, which offers mountains and other outdoor attractions. If we're able to drive, as a region, more of the major cruise lines to the region then that's good for everybody.’

Shore excursions

Horse riding, quad biking and desert experiences are already available to cruise passengers in Qatar with a range of new resorts recently opening, including Zulal Wellness Resort – among the largest wellness destinations in the Middle East offering traditional Arabic and Islamic treatments. ‘We're offering plenty of things for people to do pre- and post-cruise,’ begins Dickinson. ‘There's a lot you can see and do in a short period of time – even in one or two nights – because everything's on the doorstep. It's not even too far to get into the desert if you want to do some sort of adrenaline desert experience.

‘Everything is easy to arrange, easily accessible with a great range of hotel products – from boutique hotels up to big five star resorts with lots of facilities. There's a lot of diverse experiences people can have here.’

Grand Cruise Terminal

Doha’s Grand Cruise Terminal, located near the Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif, contains an aquarium plus art installations making it ‘an attraction in itself.’ Accessible in July to FIFA and Qatar’s supreme committee in liaison with Mwani ports management, port authorities and the Ministry of Interior, Doha’s Grand Cruise Terminal will be open for cruising from the end of January with discussions currently taking place on who will be its operator.

Outlook by 2030

Qatar, whose tourism industry was on a steep growth trajectory prior to the pandemic with ‘significant growth in the cruise sector,’ remains committed to tripling the number of its international tourists by 2030. Conceding that it is an ‘ambitious goal,’ Dickinson believes it is  nevertheless feasible. ‘The statistic we always look at is the progress and extent of Qatar Airways’ route network. Okay, it doesn't necessarily directly correlate to cruise, but I think the fact there were 40 million passengers that transited through Qatar in 2019 is a number that resonates.’ Of that figure, there was a 5% take up of people flying with Qatar Airways who considered stopping in Qatar. ‘We've got advertising campaigns going on in the key source markets to complement the Grand Cruise Terminal, and all the new hotels and resorts and attractions that are coming on stream, as well…’ Concludes Dickinson, ‘Our goals are not unrealistic, these are achievable.’


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