Posted on April 09, 2011

Qatar is planning three new economic and development zones in addition to the recently opened science park, Ali Abdulla Al Abdulla, Assistant Undersecretary of Planning Affairs and Deputy Chairman of the QNMP steering committee, told the final day of the Business and Investment in Qatar Forum.

Al Abdulla said the new zones were part of the 2030 strategy that aimed to improve the human, social, economic and investment environments to make Qatar "an advanced society." Speaking at a session devoted to improvements infrastructure and real estate development, Al Abdulla said urgent improvements to urban planning were needed to accommodate a doubling of Qatar's population in the past six years. Included in this was a new downtown development, new roads and bicycle networks, in addition to the economic zones. Al Abdulla said Qatar "looked forward to new partnerships with U.S. business" to realize these plans.

Asked why such a small country would spend up to $170 billion on these projects, Al Abdulla acknowledged that Qatar was "very ambitious." "We are very small, but we have resources," he said. "This is how we want to share and develop with others. We are trying to create a hub of several activities, sport, businesses, education, and medicine and all this needs investment." Al Abdulla said the aim is not only to bring better development to Qataris but to "countries in our area that don''t have the services."

David Welch, president of the Europe, Africa and Middle East Business Development for Bechtel Corporation, said it was "healthy" that Qatar "as big ambitions." "It would not be the first small country to punch above its weight," Welch said. "The national plans are well conceived." The aim of the far-reaching master plan was to "stimulate knowledge transfer and create a more diversified economy."

Welch said a key part of the plan was the creation of a new national airport, with Bechtel leading the construction. He said it would be one of the largest greenfield airports in the world, which he hoped would be open for business by the end of 2012. The airport was the "backbone" of the development plans for the 2022 World Cup, Al Abdulla said. He said delays in the project were due constantly evolving technologies. "It is not a matter of misdesign or a lack of communication," he said. "It is purely for a state of the art design."

The airport is expected to accommodate 50 million passengers by 2022. Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, told a later session on Thursday night that the airport was a cornerstone of the unbelievable growth of the national air carrier. "When I was brought in 1997 I knew his highness wanted an airline...but I never dreamed of it becoming the second largest hub in the Middle East," Al Baker aid. "We are rapidly rising and we weren't heard of it two years ago.

He said from 25 planes in 1997, the airline today has 97 aircrafts, adding 16 in last year alone. There would be 116 planes by the end of 2011. The carrier would have 300 pilots by then as well. Also in the last twelve months Qatar added 14 destinations . "That is unheard of, most airlines can only add four in a year," Al Baker said.

For the World Cup, Qatar is planning to build 110,000 hotel rooms, while the nation will have 19,000 by the end of year, up from 3,500 five years ago, said Ahmed Bin Abdullah Al Nuaimi, the chairman of Qatar Tourism Authority. The overall strategy for tourism was based on attracting high-end tourists. "We think mass tourism can change culture of the country," Al Nuaimi said. "We are small and we do want to protect our Qatari identity and we think mass tourism will change that identity."

Eng. Mohamed Bin Ali Al-Hedfa, Group CEO for Qatari Diar Real Estate Company and CEO of Lusail Real Estate Company, told the infrastructure session that his company had expanded beyond Qatari to 20 countries ,with 35 active projects valued at $60 billion, including a major development in Washington D.C. The flagship project was Lusail, a completely new city being built in Qatar. It is more than 38 square kilometers and has residential, work and entertainment facilities, Al-Hedfa said. "We are trying to make it the model city of the region," he said. "Lusail is going to be one of the first green cities in the world."

In the infrastructure phase, Lusail has built its Marina, which is replete with seven Manhattan-style high-rise buildings, he said. Part of the Marina will open in two months and there are still investment and contractor opportunities for the rest of the project, Al-Hedfa said.

Eng. Nasser Ali Al Mawlawi, president of Ashgal, said Ashgal was starting a $20 billion project to create ports, government buildings,highways and health care facilities. Ashgal had signed a five to seven year consultancy agreement with KBR in the U.S. and sought similar deals. "We need to build long-term relationships with different partners," he said. Al Abdulla said that the World Cup was "a big job for us" but "we have started from day one" and fit the preparations into the 2030 national master plan. "We are developing for next five years location for stadiums, hotels and accommodation for athletes," he said. "It is challenging but we have the will to do it." A government steering committee to coordinate all agencies involved in the many infrastructure projects had been set up to overcome any issues that arise, said Al Mawlawi.

Welch was optimistic about these projects because Qatar's "fundamentals are excellent...and the political environment is promising, stable and receptive." He said: "For American businesses operating in Qatar the experience has been good." Large infrastructure projects are not the only signs of immense growth in Qatar. The health care sector is on the move too, participants told the conference. Several new hospitals have opened recently are more are planned including one just for women, said Hanan Al Kuwari, managing director of the Hamad Medical Corporation.

She said the 1.6 million population of Qatar was largely healthy but that it had both the diseases of developing and developed countries, especially the common illnesses of a modern lifestyle: diabetes and cardiovascular ailments. The Qatar health sector has made great strides in recent years, including free screening all children for hearing and sight impairments, the largest robotic surgery facilities in the Middle East, and a regional training center for paramedics. Health institutions in Qatar had also forged many international partnerships such as with Cornell-Weill in the U.S., Sick-Kids Hospital in Toronto and with Heidelberg University in Germany.