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Qatar Rising

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When I was growing up in the seventies the route from Europe to Asia meant middle of the night stops in Baghdad, Tehran or Karachi.

Then in the nineties Dubai’s leadership realized that tourism creates one in nine jobs worldwide, so why not become a destination and a regional business hub? That strategy worked amazingly well. The opening decade of the new millennium saw the Burj Al Arab, multiple man-made islands in the shape of palm trees, a shopping center with an indoor ski slope, massive resort and real estate developments, championship golf courses, championship horse racing grounds, the world’s tallest building and various business zones designed to attract multinational regional headquarters, global media and Internet companies. Celebrities from sports and Hollywood regularly touched down for premieres, galas and openings. It was Las Vegas without the gambling and Disneyland without the mouse.

It was Las Vegas without the gambling and Disneyland without the mouse.

That was last decade. While Dubai remains busy and booming (expecting to break ten million visitors this year), going west on the southern shore of the Persian Gulf, you’ll find new somewhat unlikely destinations that are reaching onto the global stage (see our Sep/Oct issue for the Top Suites of Abu Dhabi).

THE GOAL AHEAD

About a 50-minute flight due west, Qatar is an absolute monarchy ruled by the Al Thani family since the mid-19th century and today the Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is taking the former British protectorate (it has been independent since 1971) known for pearling to higher altitudes, starting with a glistening skyline of variously shaped towers and Vision 2030, a 35-page manifesto that describes a national plan “transforming Qatar into an advanced country by 2030, capable of sustaining its own development and providing for a high standard of living for all of its people for generations to come.

” Holding the world’s largest proven reserves of natural gas and a citizen population of less than 300,000, Qatar, despite its own wealth, has attracted an estimated $100 billion in foreign investment, with at least half from the US energy sector. While popping into world discussions as television talking heads couldn’t figure out whether to say “Cutter” or “Kataar,” it still remained largely out of the mainstream travel conversation.

Of course that all changed in Zurich on December 2, 2010 when Sepp Blatter read out the words, “The winner to organize the 2022 FIFA World Cup is Qatar.” The last World Cup was watched by 3.2 billion people, 46 percent of the world’s population, meaning the real world will be hearing about Qatar more and more and more.

While football matches may still be a decade away, Qatar has been on the move for some time, at home and abroad. Who owns Harrods? An investment arm of Qatar’s royal family. And fashion designer Valentino? See above answer. The famed Raffles Hotel in Singapore? You get the picture. And don’t forget minority stakes in LVMH and Tiffany’s. As Dubai was building nightclubs and fairways, Doha was building universities and cultural zones.