By Dr Arno Maierbrugger, investvine.com
It is very clear that Qatar does not just need to diversify its domestic economy, it will also have to grow outside its own economy to make diversification sustainable. The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) has of course realised this fact and has funnelled state income earned through oil and gas exports in over 30 countries, into companies such as UK-based Sainsbury grocery chain, Harrods Group, Porsche, Barclays, stakes in Royal Dutch Shell and Miramax as well as in property around the globe.
One promising field of expansion abroad is tourism, and the QIA is now pursuing that through its Harrods hotel chain by investing $670mn into an integrated hospitality development project in Malaysia that will boast a seven-star hotel, serviced apartments, office building and retail space. The hotel will be the first of its kind in Asia and set the path for Harrods’ expansion to other major cities of the world. Kuala Lumpur won the bid for the hotel because of its ease in setting up and flexibility of operations, the QIA said. The project is planned to be fully completed in 2018.
At the end of last year, the QIA took a look at investment opportunities in tourism in the Philippines as part of a $1bn investment commitment to the nation that also includes energy and agriculture. A memorandum of understanding was signed in April 2012 on occasion of the first-ever visit of the HH Emir of Qatar to the Philippines. Indeed, Qatar tourism to the Philippines could need a boost, just 3,771 Qataris visited the archipelago in 2012, according to official Philippine government data, as opposed to 30,040 from Saudi Arabia and 12,684 from the UAE in the same period.
A number of Qatari projects are currently also under preparation in Vietnam, including construction of tourist complexes. Qatari Diar Real Estate is undertaking various real estate development projects in joint ventures with local governments in Vietnam, including residential and commercial projects and hotels.
Qatar Airways resumed its direct flights from Doha to Yangon, Myanmar, in October 2012 not without a purpose: Besides from making Yangon the 10th gateway in Asean for the airline, its tourism arm is exploring the possibility of investing in a hotel project in the country’s business capital, according to Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar al-Baker.
As for Thailand, Qatar has expressed interest to increase the number of medical and leisure tourists to the Southeast Asian country. Qatar Airways on February 20 will launch a fourth daily Doha-Bangkok flight and is also looking to add more flights to Phuket and to open its own lounge at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. The government of Thailand has, in turn, introduced a 90 days visa extension for Qataris for medical visits in Thailand.
Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, is also on Qatar’s tourism radar after Qatar Holding, the QIA’s investment arm, has established an Indonesian Fund worth $1bn in 2012 and a wholly-owned subsidiary, QH Indonesia, to scrutinise the country’s various investment opportunities.
*Our columnist Dr Arno Maierbrugger is Editor-in-Chief of www.investvine.com, a news portal owned by Inside Investor focusing on Southeast Asian economic topics as well as trade and investment relations between Asean and the GCC. The views expressed are his own.
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