Qatar, the Past and Future of Arab

April 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Attractions, Crossroad of Asia, Culture

When people think of Qatar, oil is the first thing that comes to mind. Like its Gulf State peers, Qatar has seen a remarkable transformation from sleepy backwater emirate to a vibrant regional power thanks to its recently discovered oil and natural gas deposits. Its population has doubled in the past ten years alone, and it is the world’s second richest nation (when measuring GDP per capita). The government has been using this large influx of foreign investment and capital to turn the country, and its capital city of Doha in particular, into a global hub of education and culture.

Qatar skyline. Photo credit - mlubinski.

Qatar skyline. Photo credit - mlubinski.

Qatar maintains its Islamic sensibilities, yet it is one of the most liberal and culturally diverse countries among the Gulf States, thanks to its large expatriate community. Yet Qatar has been making an effort to expand tourism beyond business travelers wielding briefcases; much attention has been paid towards tourism and the development of a “knowledge economy” based on a strong educational system and a vibrant, cosmopolitan culture.

Doha is Qatar’s largest city and is its primary commercial and educational hub. Not as much attention has been paid to tourism in this area until recently, but Doha is quickly becoming a destination hub on par with Dubai thanks to the recent unveiling of the grand Museum of Islamic Art and the newly developed parks that hug the coastline on Corniche Bay. Doha has also become a destination for shopping as well, as it boasts a lot of malls, including the Villagio, which regularly tops lists of the world’s best shopping centers.

Museum of Islamic Art. Photo credit - oceandesetoiles.

Museum of Islamic Art. Photo credit - oceandesetoiles.

Night skyline of Doha. Photo credit - Dr.PPR.

Night skyline of Doha. Photo credit - Dr.PPR.

While Doha provides the opportunity to experience firsthand the cultural and economic renaissance of the Gulf region, there are also many opportunities to relive Qatar’s past. The fishing villages of Al Khor and Al Ruwais in particular are popular tourist destinations, as both towns offer a glimpse into traditional Bedouin culture yet have excellent lodging and dining options. Qatar also boasts spectacular beaches as well, and the tourism board has been keen to turn the country into a destination for scuba and water sports enthusiasts, perhaps at the behest of Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Kahlifa al Thani, who is an accomplished diver and a sports fanatic.

Getting to Qatar is fairly easy, as the country’s national airline has hubs all over the world. There are also a multitude of hotel options in Doha and elsewhere, and although rooms tend to be expensive, the service and amenities are excellent, as Qataris are known as being generous hosts. Getting around Qatar is easy, as Doha has an extensive public transportation system and there are a number of rental and limousine services available as well. Communicating is also simple- most Qataris speak English including nearly everyone involved in the tourist industry, although learning a few phrases in Arabic can’t hurt!

Because of the inherent instability of the energy markets, Qatar is looking to diversify its economy, and given all that Doha and the coastal areas have to offer, it’s clear that tourism will be given a high priority for the foreseeable future. Like the United Arab Emirates, traveling to Qatar provides insights into traditional Arab culture as well as the effects of globalization.