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February 23, 2009

RISING GULF STAR:Could Qatar soon be challenging its neighbours?

When you think of the Gulf region, the destination that first springs to mind is the United Arab Emirates, closely followed by Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. However, another key player is emerging, says Ian Whiteling…

Out of 140 countries analysed in 2008 by the annual Global Peace Index (GPI), Qatar is ranked as one of the safest countries in the world, ahead of France, UK and the US. Furthermore, according to the International Monetary Fund, it is one of the world’s richest countries on a per capita basis. It has a dynamic economy and vibrant business climate stemming mainly from its strength in oil and gas production, but increasingly from the burgeoning finance, technology, communications, sports, healthcare and construction sectors.

Consequently, the Gulf state has a growing need for meetings and events, a demand that has led to the development of a new benchmark in global venue design, the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC).

World class: The Qatar National Convention Centre, due to open in 2011

Cutting edge
Due to open in 2011 in Qatar’s capital Doha at a cost of around US$1.2 billion, QNCC will feature a multi-purpose hall for 4,000 seated theatre-style, a 2,300-seat lyric style, three-tiered auditorium and an additional 57 flexible meeting rooms to accommodate a wide range of events. There will also be 40,000 square metres of exhibition space over nine halls, which will be adaptable to seat 10,000 for a conference or banquet.

The venue will be managed by AEG Ogden, one of the largest facility and entertainment management specialists in the world.
“With this amount of professional knowledge and expertise, this spectacular venue will incorporate cutting-edge technology and communications with the flexibility to meet the demands of global conference and exhibition organisers,” says QNCC general manager Paul D’Arcy.

Firm foundations
The venue falls under the banner of the Qatar Foundation for education, science and community development, which is a private, chartered, non-profit organisation founded in 1995 by His Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned.

Many share D’Arcy’s view that QNCC is destined to become one of the Middle East’s major convention and exhibition venues. He recently attended EIBTM, one of Europe’s largest meetings and events exhibitions held late last year in Barcelona, and was impressed with the response that both the QNCC and Qatar received from visitors, which included some of the world’s most influential conference and convention planners.
“Interest levels were high, as many clients said they were delighted to be made aware of the world-class facilities, ease of access, the supporting infrastructure and the heritage and cultural experiences that Qatar has to offer,” D’Arcy explains.
Turning heads
For example, North American-based chair-elect of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and president and principal of Minding Your Business, John Folks was impressed to learn that Microsoft was headquartering its Middle East operation in the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) in Doha, commenting that it would open “key opportunities to do business together there”.
Meanwhile, EADS, ExxonMobil, GE, Microsoft, Shell and Total are among companies that have already committed to invest £300m in research and development activities at QSTP.
What’s more, the director of meeting and exhibits for the American Association for Cancer Research, Linda Still, told D’Arcy that her organisation arranges several international meetings each year, and said she was very interested in the advanced level of biomedical research to be undertaken at the new all-digital’ Sidra Medical and Research Centre. Still was particular impressed by the proposed MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Doha’s Education City.

In fact, Doha holds the key to the future success of Qatar, and D’Arcy feels the city has all the right qualities to attract an international audience.
“It is invigorating to be part of such a progressive, innovative and exciting city like Doha, that has a strong focus of maintaining the Qatari culture and traditions,” he says.

A good start
Even without QNCC, Qatar has hosted a number of key events, including last year the United Nations International Conference on Financing for Development and the MENA Nuclear Energy Forum. There are also several events already planned for this year and beyond, such as the 3rd IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies & Development (2009), the 6th International Conference on Environment Mutagens and Human Population (2011) and the 25th Universal Postal Union Congress (2012).

Only time will tell whether Qatar can capitalise on the growing interest it’s attracting as a business destination and challenge its Gulf neighbours. However, one thing is certain: meetings and event planners will be waiting in keen anticipation for the opening of another world-class venue.

For more information on the Qatar National Convention Centre, visit www.qatarconvention.com

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