Under the patronage of HE Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, the first tourism conference of its kind in Qatar – Tourism in Tomorrow’s World opened on Sunday 23 February 2014 with keynote addresses from Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) Chairman HE Issa Al Mohannadi and United Nations World Tourism Organisation Secretary-General Dr Taleb Rifai.

They welcomed Qatar’s focus on the sustainable development of tourism as part of a National Tourism Strategy that is in line with the Qatar National Vision 2030.

Organised by Stenden University Qatar in partnership with Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), the two-day conference at Renaissance Doha City Center Hotel featured top international tourism experts and industry professionals. The 250 delegates included delegations of government Ministers from GCC countries including Bahrain, Kuwait and UAE as well as Iraq, and the Arab League. Dutch Ambassador HE Yvette van Eechoud was also present for the opening addresses, alongside Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim al Thani and senior figures from conference sponsors Katara Hospitality, Beverly Hills Real Estate and Qatar Museums Authority. Two students from Stenden University Qatar, Najla Al-Thani and Mohammed Saruf, presided as MCs.

HE Issa Al Mohannadi, Chairman of QTA, opened the conference stressing Qatar’s commitment to developing tourism and hospitality in a sustainable way. He highlighted the development of Qatar’s tourism and hospitality sector – one of the fastest-growing in the world, with a target of welcoming more than seven million tourists a year to the state – a seven-fold increase in current tourist numbers. This, he said, was a cornerstone of the QTA’s National Tourism Strategy, which was announced on Sunday.

Explaining the need for a tourism strategy, HE Al Mohannadi, said:

We must be well-prepared to develop a post-carbon economy. Tourism is an untapped resource. Turning Qatar towards a tourism economy is the first step after oil and gas. The world is changing. We must open up our hearts and minds. We must invite people to our country so we can learn from them and they can learn from us. Tourism is the gateway to the world. Focusing on tourism will also enable us to improve our infrastructure and visitor facilities and services…Qatar can offer an authentic tourist experience as a unique global destination which prides itself on its cultural heritage.’

In his keynote speech, UNWTO Secretary-General Dr Taleb Rifai outlined significant trends in global tourism, and the increasingly important role Qatar will play in regional and international tourism. He highlighted the rise in the number of global travelers – which exceeded 1billion for the first time in 2013, a growth of 5% on the previous year, with predictions for the number of international travelers in 2030 to be 1.8billion people. The Middle East had seen significant growth of tourism – from 24million travelers in 2000 to 150mililon expected by 2030. Qatar alone has tripled its number of international travelers in the last decade, he said.

Dr Rifai stressed:

No longer the preserve of the wealthy, today everybody has the right to travel. Travel is not just a need. It is a human right. Underlining the importance of sustainable travel. Social, economic and environmental sustainability is very important. We have to meet the needs of tourists while protecting our capital – our national and cultural heritage, for generations to come. Qatar is a good example of how you take tourism and make it the national priority. Without a national policy, tourism cannot progress. Tourism is the oil that never runs out.’

In his address, Professor Robert Coelen, Executive Dean of Stenden University Qatar, spoke of the need for more academic research to understand the current tourism environment and to help Qatar – and the region – plan for the future. He said:

We need to establish a local base of academic talent to focus on research that can steer tourist developments. Qatar must move from being a knowledge consumer to become a cutting-edge knowledge producer in economically important sectors. 2030 will be a very different world. A key factor fuelling the significant increase in number of international travelers is the rising middle class, particularly in China. If we are developing infrastructure, systems and ways of moving forwards, we have to think about what this world will be like.’

Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani, Chairman of Al Faisal Holding and the patron of Stenden University Qatar, and Leendert Klaasen, President of Stenden University in The Netherlands gave words of welcome.

During the two days of the conference, speakers will examine future trends in tourism, in the region and globally, and the legacy of major international events. Qatar’s focus on socially responsible travel and sustainability is borne out by its newest eco-tourism tours of wild life habitats and mangroves and bird-watching of some 17 species in the wetlands, all an essential part of the nation’s latest appeal to today’s visitors.