Qatar will have a new, world-class zoo by 2020 featuring drive-through safaris, a unique elephant walk-way over Al Waab Street and an exclusive seven-star tree-top hotel, a senior Ashghal executive revealed during the Tourism in Tomorrow’s World conference.

The zoo, on a 71 hectare site in Al Waab, will link with Aspire Park and Villagio mall via a cable car, dedicated tram system and a custom-built walk-way to create a ‘zoo within a park’, following the vision of HH The Emir, delegates at the tourism conference at the Renaissance Doha City Center Hotel heard.

Speaking on the theme of New Doha Zoo – a case study in sustainable approach to tourist development in Qatar, Gregory Clarkson, Senior Planner at public works authority Ashghal, outlined the concept and vision of the new mega attraction, which will help to elevate Qatar to being a global tourist destination.

Clarkson, whose prior experience includes Hong Kong Disneyworld, said the zoo would be split into zones and would feature star animal attractions including gorillas, giraffes, lions, tigers, rhinos and an elephants’ walkway on a bridge linking the zoo on the south side of Al Waab Street with Aspire Park to the north. Clarkson said:

It will be a world-class zoo and truly unique.’

According to Clarkson, the zoo will also include drive-through African and Asian Safari zones, walk-through African and Asian safari areas, a mountain experience and a tropical rainforest environment. He added that planners are designing a system where visitors can take their own cars through defined areas of the zoo. Clarkson said:

You will be able to take your personal vehicle on safari, as a special added-extra for the project.’

The zoo will have an innovative controlled biosphere roof system – the first of its kind in the world – where it will rain once an hour, and a river ride throughout the zoo network.

Visitors will be able to get to the zoo by cable car directly from Villagio, which Clarkson described as being ‘a ride in itself’ or by dedicated tram system, which will be zoo-themed and link Villagio mall and the Aspire Zone to the zoo. There will also be an underground car park.

In addition, there are plans for a tree house hotel – an exclusive seven-star resort nestled in mature trees, with boardwalks throughout the tree canopy; a five-star rainforest hotel and a four-star Montane family resort.

The zoo village, which will be open to the public, will feature architecture in sympathy with Qatari heritage and culture and will include themed cafes and restaurants to create a new, popular gathering place similar to Souq Waqif and Katara. According to Clarkson, Ashghal is planning to have the zoo to be up and running by 2020, and is expecting 1.3 million visitors to the village with around 950,000 visitors to the zoo. Clarkson added:

We want to create a world-leading model for integrated nature conservation and visitor experience. It will be a unique and memorable attraction.’

Also at the conference, Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) revealed its plans to develop cultural heritage, offering the opportunity to ‘live like a Qatari’ in days gone by. Maja Knezevic, Head of QMA, Cultural Tourism Unit (CTU), spoke of developing the country’s heritage sites to keep alive bygone Qatari culture. Cultural tourism is a central part of Qatar’s National Tourism Strategy, inviting tourists to step back in history at historical and heritage sites as well as offering a compelling line-up of museum, art galleries and attractions to visit.

Focused on protecting and promoting Qatar’s rich cultural heritage by developing its archaeological sites, CTU aims to turn sites into an authentic experience to raise awareness of the rich potential found throughout Qatar.

The launch of Al Zubarah Archaeological Site as a UNESCO World Heritage in June 2013 is a prime example which, with its authentic Qatari atmosphere and tents offering traditional food and drink, has attracted over 10,000 visitors in January 2014.

Other successful restorations include Barzan Towers, 19th century desert forts like Al Thaqab and Arakiyyat to Bronze Age sites such as purple-dye production site Jazirat bin Ghanam and the rock craving of Jassassiya, castles and the fabled Al Wajba fort which played the decisive role in the defeat of the Ottomans in 1893.

More projects in the pipeline are the old Fish Souq in Al Khor, built of local stone and traditional materials, and four ancient Qatari villages including the old pearl-diving village Al Mafyar, where visitors will be able to live like Qataris did in years gone by, restored with modern amenities and facilities. Knezevic said:

This is just a small step for the mankind but could be a big one for Qatar. We count on your support and cooperation to reach and achieve this common goal and to see Qatar positioned on a world cultural map as a cultural destination.’

Christopher Knable, Chief Operating Officer of conference sponsor Katara Hospitality, addressed delegates about hotel development in Qatar. He said:

Doha will soon be the best hotel town in the world. We are going to have the greatest hotels right here in Qatar…as a hotel developer, we have to be a futurist – we have to figure out what is coming. What you are doing must be meaningful 10 and 20 years from now.’

He also highlighted the need to anticipate guests’ needs, keep track of guests’ comments and feedback, the importance of knowing the provenance of produce and keeping ahead of trends, such as pop-up restaurants.

The two-day conference, under the patronage of HE Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, was organised by Stenden University Qatar in collaboration with QTA and attracted 250 expert delegates from industry and academia, from Qatar, the region and internationally.