GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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„As independent as you are“? – Strengths, opportunities and threats regarding Qatar evolving as a high-profile tourism-destination
Paper Proposal Text :
“Imagine [the Gulf in] 2030 […] Income from tourism and travel has overtaken earnings from oil and gas [and] more than 150 million foreigners will travel to the Gulf. Nearly 20 million pilgrims will visit the Muslim Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina which are linked by trains travelling at up to 800 km/h. Gulf airports handle 400 million passengers a year. Gulf towns support enviable lifestyle. […] Sports are booming and the arts are flourishing […] The Gulf Six have integrated with neighbouring economies and are the engine of a dynamic Middle East […] economy […] (O´Sullivan 2009, Preface)
Although this assumption is nothing more than a currently wishful thinking, it best describes recent developments which can be observed in all of the GCC-countries to a more or lesser extend. All Arab Gulf countries have developed strategic papers (“vision 2030”) regarding their domestic urban and socioeconomic development, in which tourism plays an important role as a pillar of economic diversification and educational measures, as well as for creating new sources of income and employment.
Also Qatar is off and running. Since the rise to power by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in 1995, the small state has gradually opened towards neoliberal transformation and has introduced loads of measures to modernize the country (Qatar National Vision 2030, Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016). Especially in the last decade, the capital Doha has tremendously changed its face while being host of many important political, cultural and sportive events over the past years. Urban expansion and aestheticization of urban space was focused mainly on the core area, where high risings are concentrated in one place and dominate the skyline. Qatar is now busy to prepare for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 which goes along with striving large-development infrastructure projects and a broad horizontal expansion of the Doha urban area and surroundings.
During its bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar has proposed the biggest and most profitable event ever for FIFA and offering untapped opportunities for potential investors while staging itself as a gateway to Middle East and North Africa. Qatar’s bid promised that a minimum of USD 50 billion will be spent on developing infrastructure before the game, and another USD 4 billion on erecting the architecture and energy costs.
Increasingly, many bidding countries take the opportunity to highlight other features, including tourist destinations, cultural heritage, urban amenities and political stability. According to the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016, sports (beneath culture, education) is considered as an enabler for other sectors, in particular as a powerful tool for international engagement and diplomacy through tourism, aid and trade; so World Cup–related activities may provide Qatar new opportunities in tourism and other areas. At the international level, sports events and athletes will help raise Qatar’s regional and global profile and enhance national pride. On the local level, Qatar will probably be able to position as an attractive destination for sports, culture, business and leisure since the Arab Gulf is a tourist destination, especially to the Arabs themselves, and stand on par to its neighboring competitors (esp. Dubai, Abu Dhabi).
By regenerating wide parts of “old” Doha (such as Kahraba Street Abdulla Bin Thani Street, Musherib Street, and the first Eid ground in Doha), the former lively business district of the city is demolished and then redeveloped into a (post-)modern environment. While beautification, urban renewal and densing the city by bringing back people are highlighted as ambitious benefits of the project, relocation of the current population (mainly non-national families and bachelors of lower social status), loss of sense of place and authenticity are negative impacts which are gladly concealed and ignored. Within the immediate vicinity to the Musherib-construction site, revamped – and controversially debated – Suq Waqif in this regard already serves both as a traditional open-air public space and a working market that is frequented by different social groups (residents, tourists, merchants).
Heritage projects such as Suq Waqif (and to some extend Mushereib) are primary examples of how aspects of old (“badawa”) and modern (“hadara”) by Ibn Khaldun´s sociology relates to the Gulf culture, are intertwined in architectural design of public spaces and have become symbolic of modernity, urbanization, and individualism. The architectural revival of Suq Waqif is thereby another example of the growing heritage industry in the Gulf.
Currently, Qatar’s laws and regulations do not effectively support cultural preservation, nor is the tourism and educational potential of archaeological and heritage sites optimized. Under the guidance of the Qatar Museums Authority, established in 2005, the country has opened numerous museums to display artwork and artefacts, with at least eight more being planned. Still, the need for a more dedicated and integrated management process is apparent to meet the goals of the Qatar National Vision 2030. To safeguard Qatar’s cultural identity, the government plans to improve management of heritage resources through enhanced laws and regulations to better preserve the country’s archaeological past and through a programme to develop the tourism and educational potential of Qatar’s many archaeological and heritage sites.
Although the 2022 World Cup might indeed be a strong catalyst to realize Qatari growth dreams, high (social, economic, political) challenges will trial Qatar ex ante and ex post the World Cup.
This paper will discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats regarding Qatar evolving as a high-profile-tourist destination, especially concerning the extraordinary situation of hosting the FIFA 2022 World Cup, within the framework of the Qatar National Vision 2030. It will further analyze socio-cultural impacts and implications of tourism and urban development, which are closely linked to this transformation process, by the example of the large-scale Musherib-project.

Keywords: neoliberal urban development – FIFA World Cup 2022 – high-profile tourism destination – heritage industry – Suq Waqif – Musherib-project – relocation – socio-cultural impacts – resource management