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Why Qatar Is Not A Tourist Destination (Yet)


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Qatar is not a tourist destination.

I imagine it would like to market itself as such, but it is just not the place you would look at and choose to spend your hard-earned money visiting. To be honest, there just isn’t much there.

QatarI went to the country to visit some friends who have made it their home, people who have joined the almost 90% expat population in a country that is growing rapidly year after year.

Just after the Second World War, Doha (the capital) was little more than a fishing village. Today, it has a booming economy and wealth that grows apparently unhampered.  

Arriving at Hamad International Airport in the early evening, the first thing I noticed about Qatar was that the heat is enough to knock you over.

I thought I knew what heat was, thanks to a trip I took to Tunisia in the height of summer several years ago, but I was wrong. It was so hot, even at that time in the evening, that I felt like my brain closed down for a minute or two. I think it might be the heat, despite the stellar work done by the air conditioning systems, that makes life in Qatar seem a little slower than I was expecting.

The roads are a little hair-raising, and being a Western woman definitely earns you some innocently curious looks but, apart from that, there is a gentle pace and ‘no problem’ attitude that it is difficult to not find quite alluring.

There is little that could make Qatar very popular for tourists, as I already mentioned. There are a clutch of museums and galleries, the most stylish being the Museum of Islamic Art.

A fascinating collection of traditional Islamic artworks are housed in an equally amazing looking building that looks out over the gulf. It is, of all the places on offer, the one that is definitely worth the most time.

Qatar’s real strength though is in the everyday – the places to shop, the places to eat, the places to meet.

The Souq Waqif (market) is a maze of tightly packed little alleys, filled with tiny shops that sell everything from budgies and rabbits to tailored clothes and kitchenware. It was here that I had a lemon mint tea, from the tiniest, most unassuming café, that tasted better than anything else I ate or drank during my whole visit.

We had dinner one night in the Katara Cultural Village, a sea side ‘village’ filled with restaurants and more galleries, cafés and a very impressive looking amphitheatre. The restaurant, the Sukar Pasha Ottoman Lounge, had the best Turkish food I have ever tasted, even if it was way beyond what would have been my own budget. That is not so surprising, of course; Qatar’s wealth would be wasted if it couldn’t afford to offer the best of everything.

My lasting impression of Qatar, more than any other, is that the whole place doesn’t feel quite real.

Everything is so new, so shiny and well-maintained, that it doesn’t really feel lived in yet.

This newness, coupled with the serene calm of daily life, made the whole experience similar for me to when I went to the Harry Potter Studios in London; it all looks real enough, but it is almost as though it is waiting for something.

The thing I am yet to work out for myself, at least where Qatar is concerned, is what exactly that ‘something’ is.

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