Doha is surprisingly busy at 6 AM. Leaving Hamad International Airport at sunrise, it’s hard to believe it’s so early. Traffic is already at its peak and the city is bustling. Driving past a stunning bay area lined with manicured landscape and perfect promenades, one sees people — mostly expatriates — jogging alongside the Persian Gulf. On the other side is a magnificent cityscape, with skyscrapers that are nothing short of architectural masterpieces.
Soon we arrive amidst the buildings we had admired from the opposite side, and the driver informs us that we have reached West Bay. The Aspire Tower known as The Torch Doha is one of the most iconic buildings in this area. This cylindrical building is the tallest skyscraper of the city. The Doha Tower, also known as Burj Doha, is another iconic high-rise of West Bay. It is evident that we are in the heart of business and commercial activities of Qatar’s capital.
After a brief rest, we head out to our first meeting. Traffic has already reduced and the city seems calmer now. With every meeting and interaction, we are slowly beginning to understand the pace of this fast developing city. Life is relatively unhurried here and working hours end rather early.
Assets & Investment
A population of over 2.4 million lives on just over 4,600 square miles of land, making Qatar the smallest member country of the prestigious Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It shares a border with oil-rich Saudi Arabia to its south; the Persian Gulf surrounds the rest of the country.
Don’t be fooled by its size. Despite showing a deceleration in economic growth in the last two years, Qatar remains a high-income economy. It owes much of its stunning success to oil and gas, which make up a majority (55 percent) of the country’s GDP.
As for petroleum alone, in 2015 OPEC valued exports of this product from Qatar at $28 billion.
The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) also has a role to play in making it the world’s richest country by GDP per capita. QIA was established in 2005 and has since collected assets worth $335 billion worldwide for Qatar.
In just the latter half of 2016 alone, QIA picked up a 40 percent stake in a joint venture with Brazilian food processor BRF SA to buy Turkey’s poultry giant Banvit valued at $470 million. In the same year, QIA and Glencore acquired the Russian government’s 19.5 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft for $11.3 billion. Interestingly, QIA is one of the biggest investors in Glencore, an Anglo–Swiss multinational commodity trading company. Also in the latter half of 2016, QIA invested in National Grid, a UK-based international electricity and gas company.
Also on the list of successful Qatari investments: German carmaker Volkswagen (QIA is the biggest shareholder), Paris Saint-Germain Football Club (Qatar Sports Investments bought it in 2011) and Italian luxury brand Valentino Fashion Group SpA.
It seems investing is an intrinsic part of being a Qatari. For example, Qataris today own property that together is valued at over £1 billion in London’s Mayfair alone. These aren’t just members of Qatar’s royal family, but investors include the nation’s “ordinary” citizens too.
According to the 2014 Gulf Business Salary Survey, living in Qatar could mean earning an average of $11,473 monthly. Victoria Scott, a journalist who is an expat in Qatar once asked her Twitter followers “what living in Qatar – the world’s richest country by GDP per capita – means to them.”
Some replied that price is not much of a consideration when buying a new iPhone. Fashion brands are a regular feature in daily attire. Needless to say, budget holidays aren’t common among Qataris.
Weekends mean a day out or an excursion to neighboring towns. Like most Islamic states, Friday and Saturday are the weekends in Qatar. Restaurants are filled with families and parks are crowded with picnickers. Everything is a grand affair and if you’re a guest of a local, be assured that the picnic basket is likely large enough to last an entire weekend.
Many Qataris say booking anything less than a 5-star hotel wouldn’t feel right to them. This is why the ratio of 4-star and above hotels versus 3-star and below is seriously out of balance. The former makes up about 88 percent of the accommodation inventory in the emirate.
It doesn’t matter what category you choose; being treated like a special guest is part of the Qatari tradition of hospitality. As a result, you’ll find it isn’t uncommon for hotel staff to bend over backwards to please.
At the beginning of 2016, Qatar Tourism Authority reported having approximately 20,700 keys between hotels and hotel apartments. Of course, the number is higher today. Last year, about 14 hotels launched here.
In preparation to host the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar’s hospitality industry is gearing up to meet the anticipated demand. Room numbers are estimated to reach 46,000 by 2022, although FIFA mandates host countries have an inventory of 60,000 rooms. Qatar promises to fill the gap with Bedouin-style desert camps and cruise ships. These too will be carried out in style, true to the lush Qatari way of life.
Qatar National Vision 2030
According to Qatar’s General Secretariat for Development Planning, “The State of Qatar is enjoying a period of unparalleled prosperity, with exceptional economic progress being evident in the increasing standard of living of its people.”
Qatar has come up with a blueprint for the future it calls Vision 2030. The plan encompasses rapid development for Qatar’s economic and social growth including world-class infrastructure. It is conscious of its impact on the environment, as well as traditional values and customs. Its aim is to balance modernization and preservation of heritage.
The vision rests on four pillars:
• Human development: “development of all its people to enable them to sustain a prosperous society.”
• Social development: “development of a just and caring society based on high moral standards, and capable of playing a significant role in the global partnership for development.”
• Economic development: “development of a competitive and diversified economy capable of meeting the needs of, and securing a high standard of living for all its people both for the present and for the future.”
• Environmental development: “management of the environment such that there is harmony between economic growth, social development and environmental protection.”
Visit Qatar at any time and the capital looks like it is under rapid development, especially readying itself for FIFA 2022. Even though work is progressing in full swing, the nation is often compared to the glitz of Dubai. It would be safe to expect Qatar to be an equally glamorous emirate, if not more, with a classy and worldly appeal to it.
The outskirts of Doha boast beautiful azure beaches such as Al Ghariya and Khol al Adaid that are ideal for travelers spending more than just a couple of days here. Since we were in Doha for a business trip and had some time on hand, our hotel concierge suggested places to visit to accommodate our schedule.
Museum of Islamic Art
Situated on its own purpose-built island, this magnificent museum prides itself on one of the largest collections of Islamic art in the world. Constructed like a geometric matrix, the museum overlooks the south end of Doha Bay. Visitors interested in history will be enchanted by intricate artifacts, embellished textiles and priceless gems preserved here.
The masterpieces have been sourced from both the secular and the religious, drawn from the collections of royalty and from private homes. The museum also houses over 800 manuscripts of the Quran, science, literature and religious subjects safeguarded since the seventh century. Open Sunday, Monday and Wednesday 10:30 AM - 5:30 PM, Thursday and Saturday 12:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Friday 2:00 PM – 8:00 PM; mia.org.qa
Interestingly a souq or an Arabic marketplace has always existed on this spot. After being burned down in 2003, authorities undertook a large-scale rebuilding program to bring back the beauty of this long-standing bazaar. Shop for local curios of the region including spices, embroidered Qatari outfits, seasonal delicacies and perfumes. Venture into Falcon Souq where trained birds and equipment related to the sport of falconry are still retailed.
But don’t be fooled, Souq Waqif is a mesmerizing blend of old and new. This is the social cauldron of Doha, an area that bustles with an array of international and local restaurants, cafes and sheesha lounges. souq-waqif-doha.com
Spanning nearly 1.5 square miles, The Pearl is Doha’s artificial island. Built on a former pearl diving site, this isle is home to 12,000 residents and the classic bay views can make for an interesting and relaxing evening. This is the first land in Qatar to be available for ownership by foreign nationals.
But while it is partly residential, it is buzzing with restaurants and high-end retail stores. Eateries ranging from South American, French, Lebanese, Italian and other global cuisines line the area. If shopping till you drop is on your agenda, The Pearl’s list of international and local fashion boutiques will not disappoint. thepearlqatar.com
Katara Cultural Village
Katara Cultural Village was conceived out of a long-standing vision to promote Qatar as the hub for art and culture in the Middle East. The village, which bears Qatar’s ancient name, opened six years ago during Doha Tribeca Film Festival and is now home to many Qatari cultural organizations.
The cultural village houses an open amphitheatre, an opera house, a multi-purpose cinema and a multi-purpose conference hall. A museum exhibiting the country’s maritime heritage also opened here in November 2015. katara.net
Doha Golf Club
If you fancy a round of golf after your meetings, Doha boasts of one of the first grass golf courses in the Middle East. The Doha Golf Club is an 18-hole golf course that features a serene environment with eight artificial lakes on a lush green landscape and an Arabic-style clubhouse. The Qatar Golf Academy located at the club provides instruction for every level of golfer. For more information, log on to dohagolfclub.com
Taxis are your best mode of transport. Karwa taxis start their meters at QAR 4 ($1); advance booking involves an additional fee of QAR 4.