Qatar, the Desert Destination
Written by Kate Lord Brown
On Qatar National Day, this desert nation proudly honours its history and looks forward to welcoming visitors to its shores with a host of events in 2016.
December 18 marks the day in 1878 that the founder of the State, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammad Al-Thani, succeeded his father Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani as Ruler of Qatar. Tourism is thriving in Qatar, and this year more visitors than ever before will experience the country’s legendary desert hospitality.
There is much to celebrate this year. Qatar has more tourists than ever visiting the country – 22% more GCC visitors came to Qatar in 2015 than in the previous year, and 15 new hotels have opened their doors to people wanting to explore Qatar’s unique delights. This is a land with deep cultural roots that honours the past while nurturing contemporary vision, and this sentiment is at the heart of the National Day celebrations.
The holiday was established in 2007 by Emiri Decree. It is also known as Founder’s Day, and it marks the succession of Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed bin Al-Thani, the Founder of the State of Qatar. Sheikh Jassim is credited with uniting the local people and gaining autonomy for the State. It is a celebration of both Qatar’s history and its spectacular growth and achievements as a modern nation. The day is a public holiday, and citizens and residents embrace the celebrations with enthusiasm. Visitors will see maroon-and-white flags fluttering everywhere they go, from buildings, and from cars.
Every year in Doha the beautiful seven kilometre Corniche curving along the turquoise shores of the Gulf is the focus for the National Day celebrations. It is the perfect place for visitors to Qatar to see the impressive spectacle of camel and horse parades, the fly-pasts, and dazzling firework displays. Early in the day, military parades from the Emiri Guard, Armed Forces, ISF, and others will march proudly down the Corniche. On the sea, the Coast Guard display their skills with a range of vessels from speedboats to traditional dhows, and, in the air, coloured jet trails soar above the water from the Air Force’s planes.
Traditionally, Qatar National Day is celebrated throughout the country, and events are staged at many venues including Katara Cultural Village, the theatres and concert halls, and the Darb Al Saai pavilion, which showcases Qatar’s history with horse events, desert campsites, and exhibits about Qatar’s natural world, sailing, and pearl diving. Qatar is a country with something for everyone, whether your tastes are historical or contemporary, and whether you are more interested in nature or culture, and the celebrations in December are a perfect chance to experience this.
There is no better way to understand the blend of tradition and modernity which awaits the visitor to Qatar than to take a sunset dhow cruise along the Corniche. Near the Museum of Islamic Art you can hire a beautiful old wooden sailing dhow for an hour or an afternoon. As you relax while the boat cruises across the warm teal waters of the Gulf, you have the perfect view of the glittering modern Doha skyline.
Afterwards, the choice of restaurants in Doha is just as dazzling. From global names like the newly opened Nobu at the Four Seasons to the relaxed and atmospheric cafés of historic Souq Waqif, there is something to tempt everyone. Make sure you try local favourites like lemon mint juice. Relaxing on one of the benches covered with traditional sadu weavings in the souq, sipping a refreshing juice, and watching the world go by is the perfect way to experience the culture. As Qatar Tourism Authority says: “A meal is not a meal unless it is shared,” and wherever you go there is a sense of welcome and hospitality.
Whether you are staying in Qatar for one night or longer, there are a host of world-class hotels to choose from. If you prefer boutique style, perhaps try one of the nine luxury hotels nestled around Souq Waqif. Doha’s global brand-name hotels, such as Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, and Grand Hyatt, have just been joined by the new Shangri-La in West Bay this year. Or, for a truly spectacular stay, take a helicopter or yacht to Banana Island by Anantara. This new resort just off the coast of Qatar is an island paradise offering the best of spa treatments and water sports.
While Qatar’s reputation as an important world aviation hub is established, looking forward to 2016 there is much to tempt visitors to stop off in this desert destination and explore the country rather than just pass through. In sport, there are events such as the AFC U23 Championship in January and the October UCI cycling Road World Championships to encourage tourists to visit. Culturally, as well as the fine permanent exhibits which draw connoisseurs to the museums of Qatar, there are shows such as ‘The Hunt: Princely Pursuits in Islamic Lands’, which runs until January 2016 at the Museum of Islamic Art. The stunning atrium of the MIA also hosts the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra for a concert each month, and in the first half of 2016 visitors can enjoy an eclectic programme from the Music of Hollywood to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto.
If shopping is your favourite leisure pursuit, visitors to Qatar are already spoilt for choice. From firm favourites like City Centre to newcomers like the Gulf Mall, Doha brings brand-name stores from the USA, the UK, and other global destinations to the Middle East. But in 2016 the country will welcome the largest mall in the world, the Mall of Qatar. Covering over 46 hectares, with 400 shops, the new mall will be next door to one of the 2022 FIFA World Cup stadiums and will have a dedicated stop on the Doha Metro, which is under construction. The Doha Festival City shopping and entertainment destination is also due to open its doors in 2016.
From natural wonders to tourist hotspots, whether you are visiting Qatar for business or pleasure, there is a world of choice awaiting you in this land which “understands a traveller can never be a stranger, just a friend not yet met”. Modern, authentic, there has never been a better time to explore this desert destination, and discover for yourself what makes Qatar so unique.
On Qatar National Day two years ago, the process of developing a ‘destination brand’ for Qatar began with a social media campaign that asked the people of Qatar to share what they cherish most about the country, how it inspires them, and what they would like to tell others about it.
The recently unveiled destination brand, which includes a new Arabic word mark for Qatar, takes inspiration from multiple characteristics that define Qatar today: traditions, heritage, hospitality, a love for art, a dedication to excellence, modernity, confidence, and dynamism.
The Arabic word mark was designed by renowned Qatari calligrapher Ali Hassan, who sought to express his love for Qatar’s history and traditions juxtaposed with its dynamic vision and speed of development.
Born in 1956, Ali Hassan is one of Qatar’s most celebrated artists. He designed the first edition of the Qatar Cup in 2014; the emblem for Doha, the 2010 Arab Capital of Culture; and is responsible for the Barzan Gas Project brand.
“I have designed slogans that bear the name of our nation... However, this is the first time I have designed the name of Qatar without a connection to any institution, entity, or event,” he says. “I felt I had a great challenge ahead of me: a challenge to express Qatar’s beauty, vision, and the vision of the individuals in charge of its development.”
The process of developing the different designs and narrowing them down to the word mark that now stands for Qatar as a destination took about a year.
“Many people have tried to write Qatar’s name, but they do not feel the meaning of the word,” he says. “For them, meaning is linguistic, but I see Qatar’s name as a shape and a texture. I derive meaning from the shape of each letter, and, each time I design a different letter in a different way, I can present to the world a different perspective of Qatar.”
Qatar Tourism Authority
Qatar Tourism Authority is your first port of call to find out where to go, where to eat, and what to do in Qatar. From the ultimate Qatari desert experience to the latest concert from the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, its newly updated website is full of ideas to make your stay memorable.
QTA says: “Qatar is one of the safest places in the world. Visitors have the opportunity to experience the welcoming and friendly nature of Arab culture. Like anywhere else, respecting local traditions and practices allows you to enjoy the true essence of the host country.” There are useful sections on dress codes, climate, and even suggested one- and three-day itineraries exploring Qatar, which take in spectacular sights like the Museum of Islamic Art and local favourites such as camel racing and desert safaris.
Visit qatartourism.gov.qa for more information, and follow @Qtourism on Twitter for #VisitQatar news and updates. The site and app onqatar.qa have the latest listings for what’s on in Qatar.