Wednesday, April 17, 2024 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 Joey Aguilar
Joey Aguilar
Joey Aguilar has been a journalist since 2013 at Gulf Times, reporting on events related to Qatar. He was earlier a journalist for eight years in the Philippines. He became one of the 2015 United Nations Foundation Global Goals Press Fellows. He has also attended a number of journalism seminars in the Philippines.
Christian Hirt
Qatar a top luxury destination in the region, says expert

The presence of leading and ultra-luxury hotels in Qatar, as well as various opulent tourism offerings, makes the country a top luxury and leisure destination in the region, Raffles and Fairmont Hotels Doha managing director Christian Hirt has said.“I think if we look at the offerings here, the hotel and restaurant offerings, combined with the cultural offerings, with these wonderful museums that we have here for example – it is definitely targeting the affluent traveller, he said. “Our hotels are a great testament to that.".text-box {float:right; width:450px; padding:10px; border:1pt solid black; margin-top: 10px; margin-right: 15px; margin-bottom: 5px; margin-left: 20px;}@media only screen and (max-width: 767px) {.text-box {width: 65%;}}A career spanning four continentsAn accomplished hospitality professional, Christian Hirt has a 26-year career spanning four continents and iconic, luxury hotels.Housed within Lusail’s iconic Katara Towers, the two hotels opened just before the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar and now provide an opportunity for guests to explore their first winter staycation deals valid until the start of Ramadan.Working across the business, leisure and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) segments, he has overseen major property and positioning overhauls, including the conceptualisation of restaurant themes.In 2013, Hirt started a three-year stint as general manager of the five-star Swissotel Sydney in Australia, again heading up a property refurbishment and repositioning and development of a new restaurant concept.In 2016, he went to Turkiye for six years as general manager of the ultra-luxurious Raffles Hotel Istanbul and was responsible for the hotel’s pre-opening, positioning and commercial success of its 185 rooms and suites, 67 residences, nine meeting rooms, two restaurants, patisserie, shops and extensive Raffles Spa.Hirt expanded sales outreach into GCC feeder markets and emerging markets across the Americas, Russia and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States).Besides the world-renowned museums, Hirt said the different leisure facilities that have been established in Qatar recently, such as Al Maha Island and water parks, will attract more regional and international visitors.He added that Qatar’s successful hosting of an amazing tournament such as the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 proved that it can hold major sporting competitions.“We have shown the world that we can do world-class mega events here in Qatar, and I see this as a starting point for us to develop further and to welcome lots of visitors here to the destination,” he said.“We see that there is a great calendar of events for this year, with a really great lineup,” Hirt said, citing the return of the Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition this month, the Qatar Formula 1 Grand Prix in October, the Geneva International Motor Show Qatar in October, the AFC Asian Cup, and Expo 2023, among others.The scheduled events lined up in Doha this year, he noted, will further promote the destination and drive more visitors to Qatar.Hirt said that they have been working closely with Qatar Tourism, Qatar Museums and other partners and institutions in the country to promote the destination, providing curated experiences for visitors.“The support that we're receiving here from Qatar Tourism and a lot of other institutions is absolutely incredible and shows a great commitment from everyone to achieve Qatar National Vision of 2030,” he said.About the two hotels, Hirt said Raffles and Fairmont are a new landmark in Qatar: both distinct and have the same vision, which is “to deliver the ultimate in luxury, in guest service, and in bespoke experiences”.“However, each of the two brands will do this in their individual way,” he added.

Joseph Abdo
QT events to promote Qatar as leading tourism destination post-World Cup

A mix of all the events organised by Qatar Tourism (QT) after the FIFA World Cup 2022 will 'keep the momentum moving on' to promote the country as a leading tourism destination aimed at attracting more visitors, Qatari Investors Group (QIG) CEO Joseph Abdo has said.Speaking on the sidelines of a recent event on board MSC World Europa, Abdo observed that Qatar’s tourism industry is in an ascending trend as it continues to receive an increasing number of tourists post-World Cup and post Covid-19 pandemic.“Many are now coming to Qatar, they didn’t have the chance to attend the World Cup but they are coming here to see where the final has happened, where Messi won,” he said.Abdo added that people want to visit several popular places in Qatar such as Souq Waqif, Msheireb Downtown Doha, and the stadiums, among other destinations in and outside Doha, and “this is good for the tourism, this is what we call the momentum post-World Cup”.The QIG CEO pointed out there is a huge desire for people from different parts of the globe to visit and experience Qatar, which raised the bar and successfully organised a major sporting event, and what it has to offer.This, Abdo said, has built a brand for Qatar, which showed a high sense of responsibility and professionalism in organising the event, in addition to the high level of safety and security throughout the World Cup.He added that the scheduled events in Qatar this year such as the Formula 1, AFC Asian Cup, and other major sports competitions, as well as cultural events and entertainment shows, will further boost the country’s tourism.“In between, you have some artistic events that are happening and these are always good, a mix between culture, sports, social, and business also, which will help attract more tourists,” Abdo said.Citing the key role of cruise tourism in bringing more visitors to the country, he noted that by the end of this cruise season (running from November to April), around 200,000 passengers have come to Qatar.Abdo cited a growing number of cruise passengers from Qatar as more people become aware of the product that cruise ships offer.“We started at 150 to 200 and now we reached 920 (for MSC). A good average today is around 600 to 700. We see it increasing because people are more and more aware of the product. Now with this agreement, we are going to increase the awareness through social media, the contacts that we have with key companies,” he added.

HE Akbar al-Baker (centre) with Qatar Tourism's Shared Services director Omar Abdulrahman al-Jaber (left) and QNB's Group chief business officer Yousef Mahmoud al-Neama at the DJWE press conference Sunday. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
DJWE 2023 to showcase global debut of rare jewellery

A number of novelty pieces and collections such as Louis Vuitton’s 'Fantasy necklace' will be showcased for the first time at the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition (DJWE), set from February 20 to 25 at the Doha Exhibition and Conference Centre (DECC)."Louis Vuitton's 2.56-carat Monogram flower-cut diamond represents the kind of bold design that is the hallmark of DJWE,” Qatar Tourism chairman and Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive HE Akbar al-Baker told a press conference Sunday.Large number of international visitors expectedWith 96 countries granted visa on arrival in Qatar, Qatar Tourism (QT) is looking forward to welcoming a large number of international visitors at DJWE 2023, which will run in the midst of QT’s ‘Feel Winter in Qatar’ seasonal campaign.“Returning to the DECC this year, visitors can marvel at the exquisite craftsmanship of over 500 globally admired jewellery and watch brands during the event. Many of Qatar’s leading jewellery brands will be revealing their latest collections, providing guests with plenty of reasons to visit,” he explained.Under the patronage of HE Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz al-Thani, DJWE’s 19th edition will bring together the most prominent local and international jewellers, including Alfardan Jewellery, Ali Bin Ali Luxury, Al Majed Jewellery, Al Muftah Jewellery, Amiri Gems, Bulgari, Blue Salon, Fifty One East and Louis Vuitton in a 33,000sqm venue.Exhibitors will be showcasing new brands, limited-edition collections, and exceptional luxury pieces, including the debut of regional giant Damas Jewellery and the reveal of its unique Alif collection.New to this year’s exhibition is an exciting partnership with internationally-renowned Qatari composer, Dana Alfardan, who created the campaign’s musical score, al-Baker said.He announced that DJWE this year will also feature a ‘designing with purpose’, which features a special partnership between Education Above All (EAA) and Valentino. A limited-edition collection of Valentino accessories that carries the EAA logo is to be unveiled.Parts of the proceeds from the sales will be given to EAA’s education project, benefitting a large number of children worldwide, according to EAA.“As the official airline partner of DJWE, Qatar Airways is pleased to bring onboard two of Qatar Duty Free’s most iconic cafés, where visitors can savour the delicious food and beverages available at Harrod’s Tea Rooms and Venchi,” al-Baker said.Qatar Airways is the official airline partner and QNB the official sponsor of the latest edition of DJWE. Phillips, a leading global platform for buying and selling 20th and 21st-century art and design, will also be present at this year’s exhibition, al-Baker added. Phillips, in association with Bacs & Russo holds the world record for the most successful watch auctions.DJWE will again put a spotlight on Qatar Tourism’s Qatari Designers initiative, a long-running platform highlighting its ongoing commitment to support local creative talent. Established in 2017, the programme provided some of Qatar’s most recognised contemporary jewellery and watch brands with a platform to help elevate their developing businesses.Visitors will also see the return of the stunning Turkish and Indian pavilions, featuring different brands and bespoke designs that celebrate the unique heritage and culture of the two countries.Described as the only business-to-consumer event of its kind in the region, al-Baker said this year’s DJWE is expected to attract more than 30,000 visitors from different parts of the globe.In a press statement, QNB’s Group chief business officer Yousef Mahmoud al-Neama said: “QNB Group is proud of its participation as the official sponsor to the 19th edition of the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition, which has become a banner for luxury and elegance in Qatar and the region.“Sponsoring this event is an annual tradition that the Bank maintains and that demonstrates our commitment to support national events and implement the Qatar National Vision 2030 which aims to diversify the local economy.“In addition, our participation provides an important opportunity to position the QNB brand among the world’s finest and can encourage the local brands which are taking up a greater role in the exhibition. We hope that the exhibition will continue its success as an annual event that is highly anticipated by jewellery and luxury watch enthusiasts in the region.”An impressive array of extremely rare and exquisite pearls from the Hussain Alfardan Gallery, a personal collection of natural pearls and part of Alfardan Jewellery, was also presented at the press conference.The latest designs by the uniquely Qatari concept, Papillon Jewellery, which was launched in 2011 by Noora al-Ansari, were also displayed at the event.IDT Gemological Laboratories’ presence at DJWE – a new partnership under Al Darwish Jewellery – will give customers the opportunity to have their jewellery examined and certified by an internationally certified institute.

Another view of the aquarium inside the Grand Terminal. PICTURE: Joey Aguilar.
Aquarium in Grand Terminal captivates cruise passengers

The mega cruise ships that continue to make calls at Old Doha Port have become major attractions for residents frequenting the area while the large aquarium inside the Grand Terminal has been captivating many cruise passengers.Many visitors often find time to gaze at several rare fish and other marine species at the aquarium before leaving the terminal for a tour or a visit to the Mina District.Exploring the Doha Port, visitors who prefer to stay within the area can be seen dining at various restaurants and cafes at the Mina District while others look for souvenirs at several retail shops and boutiques.A few metres away from the Mina District is the Box Park, which remains appealing to both cruise passengers and residents, particularly during the cold season. The two areas offer a scenic view not only of the Doha skyline but also of nearby popular touristic spots.The Doha Port is also home to another large public park just behind the Flag Plaza - a place to hang-out, exercise and spend the day with families, colleagues, or friends.As one of the latest popular destinations in Qatar, it is learnt that the Old Doha Port has been attracting a huge number of visitors, including those from outside the city such as Al Khor. The Port recently hosted the 3rd edition of the Qatar Balloon Festival, which also drew crowds.

Georgian ambassador Nikoloz Revazishvili.
Tourism opportunities between Qatar and Georgia ‘immense’

The post-FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and post Covid-19 pandemic period provides tourism opportunities between Qatar and Georgia as both countries continue to witness a growing number of visitors due to their unique offerings, Georgian ambassador Nikoloz Revazishvili has said.The envoy told Gulf Times that in the last few years, Georgia has become one of the most popular tourist destinations for Qatar residents, spending their “holiday vacations in Georgia and many plan to do so this winter”.He said the easy and simple visa arrangements, Georgia’s proximity to and from Qatar, and Georgia’s beautiful nature, charming contrasts, different climates, and a wide variety of historic, cultural and culinary offerings make it a favourite destination for both Qatari citizens and residents.“Qatari citizens or QID holders can travel to Georgia without visas. Second, Georgia is very close geographically and it takes just close to three-and-a-half hours to get to Tbilisi on a direct fl ight. Qatar Airways operates daily direct fl ights to Tbilisi,” Revazishvili pointed out.He said the number of visitors from Qatar to Georgia in 2022 increased by 27.5% compared to 2021, noting that Georgia has removed all Covid-19 regulations, not only in terms of entering Georgia, but also inside the country starting from June 2022. According to Revazishvili, the 2023 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championship, which will be held in Bakuriani from February 19 to March 5, will see a huge number of foreign visitors coming to Georgia.He said a total of 30 medal events are on the programme, with 16 being contested in the freestyle ski disciplines and 14 in snowboarding. “Thousands of international guests from 42 countries – athletes, offi cial representatives – are already registered to attend this event in Bakuriani. On the sidelines of the championship, various interesting entertainment events are scheduled, so the visitors can enjoy unforgettable experiences while visiting this beautiful ski resort,” Revazishvili said.He noted that Qatar, on the other hand, successfully hosted the World Cup last year and the prestigious tournament puts the country in the spotlight internationally, underlining its capacity to host and organise international sport events of such magnitude. “Qatar ‘Delivered Amazing’. Many Georgian citizens visited Qatar during the World Cup and everyone left Qatar with positive feelings and a desire to return as tourists.“Qatar represents one of the growing tourist destinations for Georgia, especially for family travellers. You can find everything in Qatar – rich history and cultural experience, amazing local and international cuisine, amazing hotels and resorts, nice beaches, shopping and etc. I am sure we will witness significant growth in tourism in coming years in both destinations – Tbilisi and Doha,” the envoy said.

Mosaad Moustafa Eleiwa
Hayya Card extension set to benefit Qatar travellers

Extending the validity of Hayya Card by a year provides easy access and an opportunity for visitors to revisit and further explore the wide range of tourism offerings in the country, industry experts have said. “After the World Cup, the country has provided multiple accesses for all nationalities so they can continue and complement their experience during the tournament,” Outing Qatar founder and managing director Mosaad Moustafa Eleiwa told Gulf Times.Qatar welcomed more than 1.4mn visitors from different parts of the globe during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, giving them the opportunity to witness thrilling football matches and enjoy an array of entertainment and cultural events. Eleiwa lauded the Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) latest decision, which allows Hayya Card holders, including their families and friends to visit Qatar until January 24, 2024, subject with a number of requirements.He noted that the announcement also came at a time when the Arab Ministerial Council named Doha as the Arab Tourism Capital for 2023, further strengthening its position as a leading tourism destination in the region.“Whether you are looking for sports, culture and arts, a city tour or just a visit, Doha now has a door for everything. Whatever your interest, you will find it here,” Eleiwa said, citing Qatar’s many tourism infrastructure and offerings.He added that Qatar has also positioned itself as a favourite luxury destination, particularly hosting multiple five-star hotels, an efficient transportation system, and world-class infrastructure projects, which have won top global awards such as Hamad International Airport, among others. According to Eleiwa, Hayya Card holders in neighbouring GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, among others, have expressed interest to return to Qatar, especially this winter.“By the way, it (enquiries) started already and I have a lot of friends who are coming to Doha soon either for business or through the Hayya Card, as well as those who want to experience the city. I expect more in the coming 10 days, packing and planning to visit Qatar again,” he said, adding that some of their interests include going for the safari experience and city tours, among other offerings. Many visitors, Eleiwa said, are anticipating the upcoming events and sports competitions scheduled to take place in Qatar this winter, including entertainment shows and live concerts.Qatar is also set to host a series of exciting and crowd-puller events this winter, such as the Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition, Qatar International Food Festival and Shop Qatar. The Qatar GKA Freestyle Kite World Cup 2023 is currently being held at Fuwairit Kite Beach and will conclude on February 4.Other major events this winter include Qatar TotalEnergies Open (tennis) and Qatar ExxonMobil Open (tennis), both at Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex), Al Shaqab events at the Longines Outdoor Arena Longines Indoor Arena at Al Shaqab, and Ramadan Bazaar.“Just from yesterday, we started getting calls from GCC nationals about their plan of return to Qatar,” he said, noting a positive response based on the new MoI decision and considering the various tourism offerings provided during the World Cup. Eleiwa said another unique offering include giving visitors the opportunity to visit and experience all the football stadiums via a customised tour by Outing Qatar even after the World Cup.Tawfeeq Travel Group CEO Rehan Ali Syed described the Qatar government's decision to extend the validity of the Hayya Card until January 2024 as an "excellent initiative". "It is extremely important for Qatar to open up and ease the travel requirements for more tourists to visit the country. Tourism has always been one of the main revenue generators for any country, it will give the right push in all areas of business specially in hospitality and retail," he said, noting that the cruise season in Qatar started seeing an increasing number of visitors to Qatar.Besides football and world-class stadiums, Syed said Qatar has a lot to offer and positioned itself as a country that has varied offerings for each and everyone whether it is for children, teenagers or adults. He said Qatar showcased its rich heritage, culture, hospitality, and most significantly, the safety aspects of the country. Tourists were keen on visiting the Museum of Islamic Art, National Museum of Qatar, heritage sites, Al Shaqab, Qatar National Library and the beautiful Souq Waqif. "The inland desert experience has also been a memorable one and we can see that during the shore excursion with the cruise, a visit to the inland sea and desert is in huge demand," he added.Going forward, Syed said Qatar will become an ideal destination for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE). He added that corporates in Qatar are planning to hold a number of conferences in the near future.

The Box Park premises has several benches for visitors to unwind. PICTURE: Bonnie James
Revisiting the Box Park

The pleasant weather and a bustling 2022/23 cruise season in Qatar provide residents and visitors an opportunity to revisit one of Qatar’s favourite attractions – the Box Park – which served as a venue for live match screenings throughout the FIFA World Cup 2022 last year.Located at the Old Doha Port, the Box Park’s upper deck offers a panoramic view of the Mina District, the mega cruise ships and luxury yachts at the Grand Terminal, and a number of Doha’s landmarks and popular destinations.The Museum of Islamic Art and its park, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, Al Fanar, and the National Museum of Qatar, as well as the residential towers at The Pearl-Qatar can also be seen from afar.After a brisk walk or jogging at the park just beside the Flag Plaza, a lot of visitors find the Box Park an ideal stop to rest and have breakfast or dinner before heading to the Mina District for another stroll.The Box Park, which hosts a number of cafes and eateries, as well as food trucks, also offers air-conditioned rooms for customers who buy meals for a minimum of QR20.“It’s good to have all these places – the Box Park and another nearby park, the Mina District and the Grand Terminal – in one area, and it’s nice to see the hot air balloons here too especially at night for the nightglow,” said Filipino expatriate Edgar B, who frequents the place after the World Cup.“I also hope to see more activities and festivals here in the coming weeks before the summer sets in. I think it’s one of the best places in Qatar to take photos and videos for social media posts,” he said, adding that “there is a lot more to do and enjoy at the Box Park apart from gazing its colourful repurposed shipping containers”.Restaurants, retail outlets and an array of shops, and a welcoming atmosphere attract many residents to spend their free time and the weekend outdoors, particularly at the Old Doha Port, it is learnt.

Gulf Times
DFI announces mega project

Aspiring actors in Qatar will have the chance to be part of one of the country’s most significant feature film projects produced by the Doha Film Institute (DFI) to date, with 200 secondary and 30 major roles. “We are proud to be producing one of the largest and most prominent feature film projects in the history of Qatar, and it will be shot at several locations across the country,” DFI posted on its social media pages. DFI noted that it is now looking for actors and actresses from “our diverse creative community” to take part in the film. Auditions, it added, are open to all valid QID-holders of any age, gender, nationality and acting experience. “Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend, as there are over 200 background roles and 30 feature roles available,” DFI stressed. DFI said it is keen to be meeting both aspiring and established actors who are interested in being considered for roles in projects produced through its Qatari Film Fund. DFI’s previous projects such as short films by emerging Qatari filmmakers have brought together various talents in Qatar. The institute also organises workshops for aspiring professional film actors and directors, and “trains participants in the art of filming great performances”.

The exhibition puts a spotlight on ‘the power and beauty of Arabian horses’.
Exhibition of Georgian artist Mikheil Eristavi open until Jan 28

The Embassy of Georgia in Doha, in co-operation with Katara – Cultural Village, has jointly organised an exhibition by Georgian artist Mikheil Eristavi, marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Qatar and Georgia.The ‘The Divine Horses’ exhibition, which runs until January 28 at Katara building 47 – Gallery 1, showcases 20 paintings and graphics. It includes rare pieces mostly presented from private collections and some specially created for the show.Georgian ambassador Nikoloz Revazishvili and Katara general manager Prof Khalid bin Ibrahim al-Sulaiti led the inauguration of the exhibition. Ambassadors of various countries and representatives of the diplomatic corps, academia and art groups, as well as Georgian citizens residing in Qatar were present.In a press statement, the embassy noted that the exhibition puts a spotlight on ‘the power and beauty of Arabian horses’ – one of the core symbols of the Arabian Peninsula – representing the main leading theme of Eristavi’s works.

The Qatar Balloon Festival has been drawing big crowds
Crowd-puller events will make it a winter to remember in Qatar

Following the recent launch of the Qatar Balloon Festival, the country is set to host a series of exciting and crowd-puller events this winter, such as Qatar Live 2023, Disney Princess – The Concert, the Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition, the Qatar International Food Festival, and Shop Qatar, among others.Qatar Tourism (QT), together with Qatar Airways, recently launched the “Feel Winter in Qatar” campaign, unveiling a series of events and festivals, starting with the third edition of the Qatar Balloon Festival.Scheduled from January 26 and lasting through the season, the newest edition of Qatar Live will feature live performances from renowned local, regional and international artistes, according to the QT.The highly successful event was also held throughout the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, witnessing performances by world-renowned names such as Black Eyed Peas, Robbie Williams, Jason Derulo, Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto, Major Lazer Soundsystem, and Paul Van Dyk.“We look forward to attracting additional world-class performances following the hugely successful Qatar Live during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – with 18 major events taking place that attracted record crowds of more than 100,000,” Qatar Tourism Chairman and Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive HE Akbar al-Baker said at a recently held press conference. “Qatar Live is now firmly established as a strong brand for leading performances in Qatar."The QT and Qatar Airways, in partnership with Disney Concerts and Broadway Entertainment Group, will present an exciting production of the world-renowned *Disney Princess – The Concert, starting on January 26 at the Katara Amphitheatre.The QT noted that some of Broadway and the West End’s most celebrated artistes will perform live for three nights, along with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra until January 28.“February will see the return of the 19th edition of the Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition, which will run from February 20-25,” HE al-Baker said.“During this highly anticipated event, attendees can see rare and priceless pieces up close from over 500 brands, meet some of the region’s most respected designers, participate in interactive workshops, and much more,” he added. “We are expecting to see a great attendance with 30,000 visitors from over 175 countries.”One of the most-awaited events, the 12th edition of the Qatar International Food Festival (QIFF) is set to take place from March 1-11 at the Hotel Park.Previous editions of the QIFF featured special culinary experiences at scenic outdoor locations, a host of globally renowned chefs, live cooking shows, cooking competitions, masterclasses and other activities.Other upcoming major events include the Qatar GKA Freestyle Kite World Cup 2023 from January 31 to February 4 at Fuwairit Kite Beach, Qatar TotalEnergies Open (tennis) from February 13-18 at Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, Qatar ExxonMobil Open (tennis) from February 20-25 (also at Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex), Al Shaqab events from February 23-25 at the Longines Outdoor Arena and Longines Indoor Arena at Al Shaqab, Shop Qatar from March 1-18, and Ramadan Bazaar.Shop Qatar celebrates the country's wide range of retail, beauty and entertainment options and unfolds around popular Doha shopping malls."As we continue to achieve our long-term goal of welcoming 6mn visitors a year by 2030, we look forward to the year ahead and the new and exciting chapter for tourism,” HE al-Baker said.He noted that the introduction of a variety of new openings, including hotels, shopping malls and public beaches, among others, in the build-up to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 strengthened and diversified the country’s hospitality, leisure and tourism landscapes."Our country captured the attention of the world and is now one of the most desirable destinations in the global tourism industry," he added.

An illuminated 'Costa Toscana' after sunset. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
Qatar’s tourism sector makes a splash with cruise ship arrivals

Qatar’s tourism sector is witnessing a further boost from the busy 2022/23 cruise season as mega cruise ships and cruise liners make maiden and return visits to Doha Port, it is learnt.The arrival of cruise ships and luxury yachts has been bringing thousands of international visitors to the country, significantly contributing to domestic tourism and other sectors.Italian cruise ship 'Costa Toscana' – one of Costa Cruises’ most innovative and environmentally advanced ships – made its second voyage to the country Sunday, carrying 3,798 passengers and 1,441 crew members, Mwani Qatar said.The 337m-long and 42m-wide cruise ship can accommodate around 6,500 passengers and hosts a waterpark, 13 swimming pools and hot tubs, 13 restaurants and 19 entertainment lounges.The 2022/23 cruise season also saw German cruise ship 'AIDAcosma’ make it maiden call to Qatar and is expected to visit Doha again Monday, in addition to 11 scheduled voyages.'MSC World Europa', which served as a floating hotel during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year; and French cruise ship 'Le Bougainville' will return to Doha Port on January 26, according to Qatar Tourism.Managed by the Swiss-based MSC Cruises, 'MSC World Europa' sails under the flag of Malta and is the most innovative and environmentally sustainable vessel in the company’s fleet, featuring the latest technologies that reduce emissions and rationalise energy use.The 131m-long and 18m-wide 'Le Bougainville', which was launched in 2019 and is operated by French cruise line Ponant Cruises, features innovative and environmentally-friendly equipment, elegantly designed cabins, and spacious suites spread over five guest decks, according to Mwani Qatar.'Costa Toscana' and 'AidaCosma' will return to Qatar on January 29 and 30, respectively. Mega cruise ship 'Mein Schiff 6' and luxury ship 'Ocean Odyssey' are also scheduled to make calls to Doha Port this season, which will conclude in April.Doha Port also welcomed the maiden voyage of the superyacht 'Emerald Azzurra', which sails under the flag of the Bahamas, as well as cruise ship 'Artania', this month.Apart from the colourful buildings and green scenery at Doha Port’s Mina District, cruise ships have also become one of the main attractions at Qatar’s latest tourism destination.The area near Doha Port’s newly renovated Grand Terminal currently is also hosting an array of activities as part of the third Qatar Balloon Festival, including the much-anticipated Night Glow.Some of the festival’s side activities include entertainment shows such as live stage and dance performances, roving mascots, kite-flying and children’s games, among others.

A scene from the Night Glow event at Qatar Balloon Festival 2023 Friday. PICTURE: Joey Aguilar
Night Glow magic at Qatar Balloon Festival

Hot air balloons became colourful and gigantic light bulbs last night at Doha Port's Grand Terminal, drawing large crowds at the Qatar Balloon Festival 2023.Spectators had the opportunity to see illuminated balloons stacked next to each other as they glowed in the dark, in tune with the festival's music.The annual event will see more than 50 hot air balloons, from 17 different countries, taking to the skies of Doha from morning to evening until January 28.The Night Glow is one of the festival's many unique and popular activities - providing a picturesque view and Instagramable moments for people to enjoy.Prior to the activity, festival-goers also had the chance to witness an array of entertainment shows at the venue such as live stage performances, dance shows, roving mascots, and kite-flying activities."It's good to have such an event after the World Cup. My family is so happy to be here at the Grand Terminal because they are really enjoying the shows particularly this Night Glow. The balloons are amazing and I hope I could bring them here every night," said Sachin, an Indian expatriate who was taking videos for his social media channels.He lauded the organisers for providing residents and visitors with what he described as "a lovely and dazzling festival that fascinate us all."The 3rd edition of Qatar Balloon Festival forms part of the ‘Feel Winter in Qatar’ campaign, launched by Qatar Tourism and Qatar Airways on Thursday at the Mina District.Qatar Tourism has also lined up several other events as part of its campaign, aimed at attracting more visitors and making the country as among the favourite places to explore.

Sheikha Hessa al-Thani, HE Akbar al-baker, Nasser al-Attiyah, and Omar al-Jaber at the press conference. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
'Feel Winter in Qatar’ campaign launched

Qatar Tourism (QT), together with Qatar Airways, launched on Thursday (January 19) the ‘Feel Winter in Qatar’ campaign, the third edition of the Qatar Balloon Festival and revealed a series of events and festivals.“This (Feel Winter in Qatar) is a seasonal extension of our central ‘Feel More in Qatar’ brand platform, which seeks to solidify the country’s position as the Middle East’s top destination for families," Qatar Tourism chairman and Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive HE Akbar al-Baker told a press conference."Our cool weather, abundant natural beauty, and unrivalled leisure and entertainment offerings make us the perfect choice for an extended holiday, a short getaway, and, of course, a winter break,” he stated.Joined by QT’s Shared Services Department director Omar al-Jaber and marketing head Sheikha Hessa al-Thani on the stage, al-Baker announced QT’s new ambassador – renowned Qatari rally driver Nasser al-Attiyah – who later joined the panel.With the conclusion of the ‘greatest FIFA World Cup tournament’, al-Baker said QT and Qatar Airways look forward “to maintaining the same rhythm of excitement for 2023 to continue working towards our 2030 goal”.He noted that January alone has a packed schedule in store for visitors, including the Qatar Balloon Festival, which will witness more than 50 hot air balloons from 17 different countries soaring across the skies of Doha from morning to evening until January 28.The 10-day festival will feature mesmerising sunrise balloon launches, the ‘Night Glow’, Tethered Lights, live entertainment and an array of mouth-watering cuisines at various kiosks and food trucks. All hot air balloon rides will launch during sunrise, giving the riders a spectacular view of Doha.Visitors attending in the evenings will get to experience the fascinating ‘Night Glow’, where all 50 balloons lighting up the night sky with their vibrant designs. The festival also includes a variety of performances from DJs, singers and music bands, dancers, magic shows, violinists and much more.However, due to windy weather, the balloons could not be launched yesterday. It has been announced that the balloons will be launched when weather allows.Following the successful programme during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, QT’s ‘Feel Winter in Qatar’ campaign will see a dynamic line-up of live performances from acclaimed local, regional, and international artists through the flagship activation, Qatar Live starting January 26 and lasting through the season."From January 26 to 28, the Katara Amphitheatre will come alive with a production of Disney Princess – The Concert. For the first time, the performance will be supported by a live score from our very own Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO),” al-Baker said.Some of Broadway and the West End’s most celebrated artists will perform this unique tribute to Disney Princesses, alongside a live orchestral performance by QPO. QT and Qatar Airways are bringing an exciting production in partnership with Disney Concerts and Broadway Entertainment Group.QT and Qatar Airways are bringing a water-sport world cup to Doha. Fuwairit Kite Beach will house the Qatar GKA Freestyle Kite World Cup 2023 from January 31 to February 4.The professional women’s tennis tournament, Qatar TotalEnergies Open is back for its 21st edition which will take place in the outdoor hard courts of the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex from February 13 to 18.The Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition will take place from February 20 to 25 at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre. This year’s edition will feature luxury watches, necklaces, rings, earrings, diamonds, gold and silverware. It will host 500 brands and 30,000 visitors from more than 175 countries.The Qatar ExxonMobil Open will take place from February 20 to 25 at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex. The first edition was held in 1993, and has since become an event regularly attended by some of the sport's top-ranking players.Al Shaqab is starting Qatar’s 2023 calendar with breathtaking equestrian events, which started with the ‘Hayaakum at Shaqab’ event and will continue with the Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab, presented by Longines 2023. This will take place from February 23 to 25 at the Longines Outdoor Arena and Longines Indoor Arena at Al Shaqab, with Commercial Bank as the title sponsor, Longines the presenting partner and and ExxonMobil the main sponsor.The 12th edition of Qatar International Food Festival (QIFF) is set to take place from March 1 to 11 at the Hotel Park. Previous editions of QIFF featured special culinary experiences at scenic outdoor locations, a host of globally renowned chefs, live cooking shows, cooking competitions, masterclasses and other activities for both families and friends.Shop Qatar, which celebrates the country's wide range of retail, beauty and entertainment options and unfolds around popular Doha shopping malls, will be held from February 23 to March 18.Residents and visitors can celebrate the most important time of the year with QT’s Ramadan Bazaar, which features family-friendly activities around Qatar. Tourists will have the chance to learn about the wonderful traditions and festivities this period brings to the country and its people.“Lastly, this year in October, we will be inviting car lovers from across the world to witness the latest innovations in the automotive industry as the Geneva International Motor Show comes to Qatar for the very first time in its history," al-Baker said."As you can see, we have an exciting and varied calendar of events, for both residents and tourists, that makes Qatar one of the best places to live and visit," he added.

Gulf Times
'MSC World Europa' returns to Doha

Cruise ship 'MSC World Europa', which served as a floating hotel during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year, returned for its fourth visit to the country during the 2022/23 cruise season.In a post on its social media pages, Mwani Qatar noted that the mega cruise ship – which had its naming ceremony in Doha last year – was carrying 5,310 tourists and 2,070 crew members.Managed by the Swiss-based MSC Cruises, 'MSC World Europa' sails under the flag of Malta and is the most innovative and environmentally sustainable vessel in the company’s fleet, featuring the latest technologies that reduce emissions and rationalise energy use.Built in Saint-Nazaire, France, the 22-deck ship has a length of 333m, width of 47m, public space of more than 40,000sqm, as well as 2,633 staterooms, accommodating 6,700 passengers, in addition to 13 restaurants and six swimming pools. The 'MSC World Europa' is an ultramodern urban metropolis at sea offering a veritable world of different experiences, while setting a new standard for the cruise industry.MSC Cruises’ newest flagship and the most innovative vessel is dubbed as the world’s largest environmentally focused cruise passenger ship. Along with 'MSC Poesia' and 'MSC Opera', 'MSC World Europa' provided football fans with a unique hospitality experience during the prestigious tournament in Qatar.The three vessels have a total passenger capacity of more than 12,000 combined, according to MSC Cruises.On top of groundbreaking advances in terms of reduction of emissions and energy efficiency, the LNG-powered ship paves the way towards the uptake of carbon-neutral synthetic and other alternative fuels as soon as they are available at scale.

A shop offers various antique and gift items. PICTURES: Joey Aguilar
The many attractions of picture-perfect Mina District

The Mina District’s charm resides in its welcoming ambiance, coupled with a variety of retail outlets, cafes and restaurants, and its vividly-painted buildings, making it an increasingly popular tourist destination beyond the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.Dubbed as one of Qatar’s newest tourism spots located at the Old Doha Port, the District continues to attract a growing number of visitors due to its unique offerings and breathtaking views.During the prestigious tournament, this one-of-its-kind destination provided visitors a place to relax and stroll around, where docked cruise ships can be viewed from afar. Three ships – 'MSC World Europa', 'MSC Opera' and 'MSC Poesia' – served as floating hotels throughout the football event in Qatar.A number of shops and boutiques feature a wide range of products, including apparel, flowers, perfume, carpets, jewellery, antique collections and gift items, in addition to pharmacies, pet shops, supermarkets and other stores.One of the popular shops in the District, owned by pottery artist Talal al-Qasemei, has been attracting visitors as it displays an array of locally-made pottery and ceramic products that reflect the rich heritage of Qatar and the Gulf region.Several restaurants and coffee shops set up both indoor and outdoor dining areas, making it more appealing to customers who want to enjoy the atmosphere that suit them.“I like going to work because I love to see this beautiful place, the atmosphere is so relaxing because of the colourful buildings and the park, and I also feel excited to see the cruise ships arriving,” an employee of a leading coffee chain told Gulf Times.German cruise ship ‘AIDAcosma’ arrived at Doha Port Monday, carrying 3,624 passengers and 1,385 crew members, while Italian cruise ship ‘Costa Toscana' came on Sunday on its maiden tour of the Arabian Gulf, according to Mwani Qatar.What makes the District more appealing is due to its accessibility to other popular destinations such as the Museum of Islamic Art (and its park), Box Park and Flag Plaza, the Doha Corniche, and Souq Waqif, among others.Like MIA Park, the District also has a good location where visitors can park easily, as well as view and take pictures of the Doha skyline.

AIDAcosma at Doha Port Monday
German cruise ship 'AIDAcosma' arrives at Doha Port

German cruise ship ‘AIDAcosma’ arrived at Doha Port Monday, carrying 3,624 passengers and 1,385 crew members, according to Mwani Qatar.On its social media pages, Mwani Qatar said the ship's maiden call to the port is one of 13 scheduled voyages during the 2022/23 cruise season, which started in December last year and continues until April.The 345m-long and 54m-wide ship became a popular backdrop for social media posts by Qatar residents and visitors at the Mina District Monday.'AIDAcosma' is operated by AIDA Cruises and has 20 passenger decks and 2,700 staterooms. It is one of the largest cruise ships within the AIDA fleet with a capacity of more than 6,600 passengers and 1,636 crew members. It was built in 2021 and launched in early 2022.Mwani Qatar noted that 'AIDAcosma' “is one of the new class of ships that is dual-fueled by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and traditional fuel oil, which is intended to make them more environmentally friendly”.The arrival of 'AIDAcosma' and other major cruise ships is expected to boost Qatar’s tourism sector, attracting an increasing number of foreign visitors, particularly during the cruise season.For 2022/23, Doha Port will witness a total of 58 world-class cruise ships and four cruise liner maiden calls, in addition to welcoming around 200,000 visitors until the end of April.The Doha Port received Italian cruise ship ‘Costa Toscana’ – the flagship vessel of Costa Cruises, which can accommodate around 6,500 passengers – on Sunday during its maiden tour of the Arabian Gulf.According to Qatar Tourism, the 24,000sqm Doha Port has become a turnaround hub and it is rapidly “emerging as a prominent luxury cruise destination in the winter cruise season”.From the port, cruise passengers can visit Qatar’s popular tourist spots such as the Souq Waqif, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Corniche, National Museum of Qatar, Msheireb Downtown Doha, and the newly built Mina District.Located at Doha Port, the Mina District offers a wide range of retail and food and beverage offerings and a relaxing atmosphere due to colourful architecture, scenic views, and other attractions.

The FIFA World Cup 2022 attracted more than 1.4mn football fans from across the globe. PICTURE: Joey Aguilar
Qatar's tourism sector reached new heights during 2022

Qatar’s tourism sector reached new heights during a year which had the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 as the crowning glory. The mega sporting event which attracted more than 1.4mn football fans from across the world, has now been announced as the best World Cup of this century, in a BBC Sports poll.Apart from the attending matches of the 29-day, 32-nation tournament, foreign visitors also had the opportunity to explore Qatar’s various tourism offerings, ranging from iconic landmarks and attractions to the country’s culinary scene, arts and culture, festivals, and major events, among other experiences.In the lead-up to the prestigious tournament, Qatar has already welcomed more than one million visitors from the start of 2022 to August – seen as a remarkable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.Qatar Tourism (QT) logged 729,000 international arrivals in the first half of this year, which is 19% higher compared to 2021’s (full year) 611,000 visitors to the country. June 2022 alone witnessed 149,000 visitors coming to Qatar – recorded as “the highest visitation to Qatar in the summer month in the last five years.”According to QT, 34% of the total number of visitors entered by land (51,000); 6% by sea (10,000), and 59% by air (88,000) via the Hamad International Airport - voted as the World’s Best Airport by Skytrax for the second year in a row.According to QT, Qatar concluded the winter cruise season (from December 2021 to June 2022) with 101,000 cruise passengers with 34 cruise ship calls. This figure is approximately 12% of the total arrivals during the same period of last year.As the FIFA World Cup approached, football fever gripped Qatar with the arrival of nearly 180,000 visitors in October – a six-year high – with the hosting of a sea of events and new launches. The country featured family-friendly attractions and entertainment, as well as unique exhibitions and festivals.Visitors also witnessed the opening of different world-leading luxury hotels and resorts, including Fuwairit Kite Beach, Rixos Gulf Hotel Doha, and The Outpost Al Barari; various attractions; luxury malls (Printemps); the reopening of the Museum of Islamic Art; the inauguration of Darb Lusail Festival and the pedestrianised Lusail Boulevard – dubbed as “the country’s latest open-air shopping and dining destination”; and the opening of Al Maha Island and a number of public beaches at West Bay area; in addition to the events organised as part of Qatar - Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia (MENASA) Year of Culture.Multi-awarded and World’s Best Airline by Skytrax, Qatar Airways, played a key role in further boosting the country’s tourism sector, operating nearly 14,000 flights during the World Cup. The national carrier was the Official Airline Partner of FIFA.During 2022, QT launched a number of campaigns to promote Qatar as a tourism destination such as the “No Football. No Worries.”, featuring legendary Italian footballer Andrea Pirlo who highlights Qatar’s world-class and curated offerings.“In a series of humorous advertisements,” Pirlo is seen “enjoying various adventures in Qatar, from sandboarding down the desert dunes of the Inland Sea and soaking up the culture in the Museum of Islamic Art to kitesurfing at the country’s new resort, Fuwairit Kite Beach.”QT also launched an initiative titled ‘Posts of Qatar’, which showcased “10 distinct goalpost art installations that frame some of the most iconic landmarks and Insta-worthy spots across the country”.QT noted that “the initiative represents the ultimate fusion of the country’s love for football, appreciation for art, and talent for creating striking destinations.”

Bala showing a black bisht, similar to the one worn by Messi during the awarding ceremony.
Bisht is trending, on Messi's shoulders

The popularity of Thobe, ghutra and igal as fashion fan trend during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has shifted to a traditional Arab cloak called ‘bisht’, making it the most-sought after item in Doha after the award ceremony of mega sporting event. Argentina's captain Lionel Messi received the bisht from His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in a gesture widely viewed as a symbol of respect and great honour for the legendary footballer. Bala, a seller of traditional Arab dresses at Souq Waqif, told Gulf Times that he witnessed a demand surge of bisht right after the closing ceremony of the tournament. "Thankfully, we had enough stock," he said. A large number of Argentinian supporters, as well as Brazilian football fans, rushed to Souq Waqif shops and bought the traditional cloak (bisht). Prizes range between QR70 and QR1,500, depending on the quality, design and material, while the high-end items could reach $2,500 or even more, according to Bala. He noted that the machine-made designs are cheaper compared to the handmade ones, which are mostly made in India. “We have different colours of bisht but fans only want the black, similar to the one worn by Messi on stage. They wear it right away and many requested me to take a picture of them,” Bala said, adding that some customers bought more than one piece. “An Argentinian told me that he will be giving the bishts, besides other traditional Arab wearables such as the thobe, ghutra and igal, to his family, relatives, and friends as gifts and souvenirs,” Bala said. Wearing of traditional Arab clothes, in addition to jerseys, large flags, and other World Cup-themed wearables, became immensely popular during the tournament. Such a trend continued throughout the World Cup and until the finals until the bisht burst on to the centrestage. This was echoed by Sabith, also a seller of different Arab dresses and items at Souq Waqif, saying that he continues to receive many inquiries about bisht from foreign visitors who stayed longer in the country. “Many football fans purchased bisht but before that, it’s the thobe, along with ghutra, and igal, which were really in high demand, especially for those heading to the stadiums,” he added.