For a country that has quietly gone about its evolution of the years, all that is great, mysterious, advanced and niche about Qatar is set to be thrown into the public domain as it opens its doors to the world for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
This isn’t to say that Qatar has been closed until now of course; its economic development and infrastructural rise has been pertinently acknowledged around the world to make it one of the leading states per capita on most scales you care to imagine.
As a high income economy boasting the world’s third largest natural gas and oil reserves, as well as having the highest per capita income in the world, Qatar’s status on the top table of global prosperity is undoubted; but for the visitor and business traveller, there is so much more to the country than a healthy bank balance.
Its four main cities- Doha the capital, Al-Khor, Rayyan and Wakra - have proved to the few that have graced its bustling cities that Qatar is a culturally diverse, yet indigenously faithful nation; the most significant power in the Arab world without the limelight that often comes with it.
You only need to cast an eye towards its only neighbour, Saudi Arabia to testify this justaposition, but Qatar has continued to simmer fruitfully under the surface.
That is, until now. Its unveiling as host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup will confirm to the rest of the world what previous visitors will have already found to their delight; that Qatar is not just the serious, driven businessman, but is also the cultured explorer, the nature lover, and the adventure seeker.
Facts and figures
Languages: Arabic, English
Area: 11,586 squarekilometres
Population (2016): 2.8 million
GDP (2014): $334 billion
Currency: Riyal (QAR)
Time zone: UTC+3
Dialling code: +974
Internet TLD: .qa
The business end
For its relatively small size and an oft-described ‘disproportionate’ influence on the world, Qatar’s rise to prominence has unashamedly emanated from its discovery of oil in the 1940s. Subsequently transforming the state’s economy, its forthright drive for economic perfection is also epitomised by its zero income tax and almost non-existent unemployment rate; the population largely geared towards their contribution to the economy’s ongoing prevalence.
Compounding this influence is an extraordinarily high reliance on migrant workers to complete the national workforce, with 86 percent of the population comprised of this segment, and 94 percent of the workforce. Whether or not this is the most sustainable or idealistic way to become the fourth highest GDP per capita in the world is up for debate, but one fallout that is undoubted is the need for Qatar to formulate a societal background conducive for attracting business travellers.
Its Qatar Investment Authority - the country’s sovereign wealth fund - has an international investment arm to compound its global influence in the form of Qatar Holding; and since 2009 it has involved itself in some of the biggest enterprises and projects the world over to affirm its status. Siemens, Harrods, The Shard, Barclays Bank, Heathrow Airport, Paris Saint-Germain FC, Shell, Bank of America, Agricultural Bank of China, Blackberry and Santander Brasil have all experienced Qatari involvement, emphasising the international influence that the country has on a multi-sector level.
Naturally, as a consequence and knock-on effect of the success that has been achieved and the attention still to come, one industry to be directly affected has been the hospitality domain. Traditionally quite expensive already, hotel prices are still on the rise; with its usual clientele stemming from aforementioned conglomerates usually able to foot the bill. For the average business traveller, this rule of affordability should still apply, but unlike other business or tourism hotspots, there is a lack of alternatives in regards to budget accommodation or hostels.
Out and About
Outside of the boardroom and away from the world of accountancy, the cultural and entertainment value of Qatar is rising in prominence almost as much as the cost of its hotels. And it is while exploring these elements that you’ll find yourself softening in attitude towards the country and in your usually finance-driven mindset in general.
As the world’s biggest buyer in the art market, unsurprisingly this has resulted in a thriving art scene, also overlapping arguably the most poignant and impressive museum collection in the Middle East.
Food & drink choices provide even more of an eclectic veer away from boardroom culture, whether you’re looking for local Middle Eastern cuisine, or a taste of pretty much any other national delicacy of your choosing. Often situated within one of the country’s many souqs, the unique experience of eating world-class meals in - at first glance - unkempt locations, is one that you’ll quickly get used to and grow to enjoy.
The souqs inevitably provide visitors with endless retail opportunities spanning both modern and antique items as well. And if you feel like retiring from the business life entirely - for a few hours - then its nature and leisure assortment is becoming more archetypally westernised; indicted by its aqua parks, the Katar cultural village, Banana Island Resort in Doha, and Al Corniche if you’re just looking for more relaxed aesthetic beauty.
Edging towards the coast and the Persian Gulf, and watersports are a common hobby among locals and tourists alike, and continuing a long the sporting theme - if you want to buy into the World Cup vibe in the build up to 2022 - then football is already the most popular sport in the country, and paying a visit to one of the 12 new and expanding stadiums will give you a glimpse of the euphoria to come.
“Qatar brings together old world hospitality with cosmopolitan sophistication, the chance to enjoy a rich cultural tapestry, new experiences and adventures.” - Visit Qatar
Food & Drink
Majlis Al Dana
Al Nahham Restaurant
Sport and Leisure
While Qatar is a multinational entity by all aforementioned measures when it comes to making money and driving industry, the previously attributed idea of it being a ‘behind closed doors’ success story is supported by the difficulty in getting into the country to begin with.
Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE are the only states able to enter Qatar without a visa, while much of Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand can obtain a - relatively costly - visa upon arrival. For the rest of the world, the process is complicated and requires assistance from a guarantor ‘on the inside’; a structure that again adheres to the goal of filtering the economic elite, the academic prospects, and the entrepreneurial adventurer from the typical tourist or just the generally curious.
That being said, within the business travelling community, you should be fine, and once you’ve paid your way in to Doha’s new Hamad International Airport - Qatar Airways concertedly building its flight network from here at present - then your routes around the country are equally clinical. It’s not like the Far East where a tuktuk or a jet ski might seem like a fun, alternative mode of transport. In this regard, alternative means limousine or car rental instead of getting a bus or taxi.
Uber has reached Qatari shores and is one of the more popular inner-city modes, but while they are available, it is strongly suggested that you stick to air conditioned methods such as this rather than relying on walking or cycling. The highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the world and intense heat to boot should put pay to any aspirations of keeping mobile to this end (footballers in 2022 are in for a draining few weeks).
“A stroll down the bustling alleys of Souq Waqif provides an authentic taste of traditional commerce, architecture and culture. The maze of small shops offer a dazzling array of Middle Eastern merchandise from spices and seasonal delicacies to perfumes, jewellery, clothing, handicrafts and a treasure trove of souvenir bargains. Traditional music, art and cultural shows add to the ambience of this special place. Relax and soak up the vitality and atmosphere at one of its eclectic mix of great restaurants and cafes.” - Visit Qatar
The Pearl Qatar
“The Pearl-Qatar is a man-made island off the West Bay coast featuring Mediterranean-style yacht-lined marinas, residential towers, villas and hotels, as well as luxury shopping at top brand name boutiques and showrooms. A popular dining spot, its waterfront promenades are lined with cafes and restaurants serving every taste – from a refreshing ice cream to a five-star dining experience. The Pearl is a popular visitor attraction by virtue of its chic elegance, inviting description as the ‘Arabian Riviera’.” - Visit Qatar
Katara Cultural Village
“An innovative interpretation of the region’s architectural heritage, this purpose-built development’s impressive theatres, galleries and performance venues stage a lively year-round programme of concerts, shows and exhibitions. Among Katara’s recreational attractions are a wide choice of dining options, including top class restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, and a spacious, well-maintained public beach with water sports.” - Visit Qatar
Khor Al Adaid
“Some 60 km from Doha in the south-eastern corner of the country lies one of Qatar’s most impressive natural wonders, the ‘Inland Sea’ or Khor Al Adaid. A UNESCO recognized natural reserve with its own ecosystem, this is one of the few places in the world where the sea encroaches deep into the heart of the desert. Inaccessible by road, this tranquil expanse of water can only be reached by across the rolling dunes.” - Visit Qatar