Qatar has been undergoing unprecedented economic, cultural and societal development during the last few decades, but the nine-hour flying time from Manila had practically isolated the Philippines from these feverish developments.
With the advent of cheap air travel, maybe it is time for Filipinos to take a second look at and include this tiny Emirate in the Arabian Sea in their travel plans.
Philippine Airlines (PAL) is now one of three carriers serving the Manila-Abu Dhabi-Doha route following its inaugural flight on March 18.
PAL Flight PR 656 will be available four times a week, every Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. The flight leaves Manila at 12:30 a.m. and arrives in Doha at 8:15 a.m. Meanwhile, the Doha-Abu Dhabi-Manila flights, or PR 657, will be offered every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The flight will leave Doha at 10:05 a.m. and arrive in Manila at 3:50 a.m. the following day. The other carriers serving the route are Cebu Pacific and Qatar Airways.
CEB’s Manila-Doha is the low-cost carrier’s fifth long-haul route—and fourth to the Middle East. The highly successful carrier is also seeking additional traffic rights to the United Arab Emirates, which would be used to launch services to Sharjah.
Qatar Airways connects to Manila 14 times a week, leaving the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 1:35 a.m., followed by the second flight at 8:45 a.m. on the same day. All three flights land at the Hamad International Airport (HIA).
The new HIA
The spanking new HIA has a capacity of 50 million passengers per year, and eventually could handle up to 93 million per year, making it the second-largest airport in the region after Dubai. It is also expected to handle 320,000 aircraft movements and 2 million tons of cargo annually. The check-in and retail areas are expected to be 12 times larger than those at the current airport.
HIA is two-thirds the size of Doha and has an oasis theme. Many of the buildings have a water motif, with wave-style roofs and desert plants growing in recycled water. Half of the airport was reclaimed from the sea. It has two runways and one is the second longest in the world, at 4.8 kilometers.
Qatar sits on the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf) and is preparing for the future, when oil revenues totally dried up. The emirate is using its oil money in infrastructure, like airports, subways, new cities, malls, and five-star hotels and condos galore. These infrastructure and altars of entertainment are meant to assure that its citizens will remain employed and kept busy.
Qataris enjoy all the trappings of Western civilization: fast cars, flashy timepieces, high fashion, nightlife and a degree of freedom not enjoyed in other Middle East countries, like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Syria.
Other Middle East countries should emulate Qatar so that their energetic young men and women, who are in the majority, would not express their frustrations of being imprisoned by religious intolerance. This is one of the reasons some of them opt to join terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant, author and journalist Thomas Friedman said.
Small but rich
Qatar is roughly the size of Mindoro Island. The Philippines, with all of its more than 7,000 islands dotted with numerous tourist come-ons, beats Qatar hands down, since a big slice of that emirate’s real estate is sand.
The Philippine population stands at 100 million as against Qatar’s 2.2 million inhabitants. Don’t be fooled by the numbers. Qatar’s per-capita GDP is one of the highest in the world at $137,200 (2014 estimate), as against the Filipinos’ $6,962 per-capita GDP.
With so much money in its hands, it is no surprise that this emirate is pulsating with unbounded energy and optimism, symbolized by Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. He is the eighth and current prince of Qatar. The fourth son of the previous emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, he became emir of Qatar at 33 on June 25, 2013, after his father’s abdication.
Sheikh Tamim has held a variety of government posts within Qatar, and also worked to promote numerous sporting events within the country. As of 2013, Tamim is the youngest reigning monarch among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and the youngest current sovereign worldwide, Wikipedia said.
GCC is the political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
Abdul Wahab, in his 30s, is a recent graduate of the Texas A&M University of Qatar who has designed and developed a concept supercar, the Elibriea. The car is designed to resemble a stealth fighter jet.
“It’s an advanced prototype that we can later market and manufacture professionally,” the corporate communications manager of the Ali Bin Ali Group said. “This idea won’t stop here at the prototype stage. It has big potential to grow.” The car’s futuristic design and “Made in Qatar” stamp seemed to impress many visitors at the auto show.
The car project has the blessings of Sheik Al Thani and was liberally funded by the Ali Bin Ali Group. It was easily snapped up by a Qatari following a presentation, and Wahab is now back to the drawing board designing a faster hypercar.
“Making the Elibriea is part of the Qatari identity, because this is the first possibly ever machine built at this level in Qatar,” Wahab was quoted as saying in Desert Riders magazine, whose executive editor, Ley Pascual, is a Filipina.
Aiming to minimize reliance on energy, Doha has invested its fund predominantly in international markets (the US, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region) and within Qatar outside the energy sector. The Qatar National Vision 2030 foresees the shift from natural gas-based revenue to Qatar Investment Authority-type investments between now and a few decades down the road.
In January 2013 one writer pegged the QIA investment in Britain at €30 billion, France €10 and Germany €5 billion, while another reported that the total assets under management in June 2013 was on the order of $100 billion.
Qatar is run mostly by foreigners. This emirate is so rich, it imported, lock, stock, and barrel prestigious colleges and universities from the United States and France. These are Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Yale University, HEC Paris, Northwestern University and Texas A&M University.
Qataris are employed in some of the choice posts in government, such as those in customs, immigration, police, airlines, the courts and the like.
Pinoys in Qatar
Legacy carrier PAL flew to Qatar as part of its expansion in the Middle East. It also aims to get a slice of the 200,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) laboring in Doha.
Filipinos are the second-largest group of foreign workers in Quatar, after India, with 57,000. Qatar is the third-largest destination of Filipino migrant workers in the Middle East, after the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and also the fourth-largest destination of OFWs worldwide.
PAL hopes that the tourist flow between the two countries would increase over the years.
Although cash-loaded Qataris would rather visit Europe or the US, PAL Vice President for Philippines Sales Harry Inoferio said we could entice them through our first-class tourist spots, like the exclusive resorts in Palawan or Davao. He suggested that the Department of Tourism establish an office in Doha to promote the Philippines’s various destinations. “We can also tell Middle East countries that we have halal foods, contrary to existing beliefs,” Inoferio said.
Plenty to see
Qatar, and the rest of the emirates bordering the Persian Gulf are dredging the seas and turning them into tourist castles. The country has established a reputation for building dozens of eclectic skyscrapers, which have transformed its skyline into tourist-viewing spectacles themselves. More than 50 towers could be seen in Doha, the largest of which was the Doha Convention Center Tower. It is 551-meter (1,808-foot) skyscraper.
The other most interesting buildings are Aspire Tower, Kempenski Residences and Suites, Palm Towers I &II, Burj Qatar, Navigation Tower, Al Bidda Tower, Tornado Tower and Dubai Tower, among others.
There are twin crooked tower designs, as if they were about to fall down. A building that resembles a flower vase; others that catch your breath because they seem to twist and sway upward in a sweeping column of glass and steel.
“Sad to say, the Philippines has the most boring collections of buildings,” a British expat said.
In 2014 a senior government official announced that Qatar would be spending $65 billion on new infrastructure projects in upcoming years, in preparation for the 2022 World Cup.
“Half of the world’s construction cranes are in Qatar and Dubai,” said our guide, an expatriate from Egypt.
One new city-like clusters of buildings that rose from the sea is The Pearl, an artificial island spanning nearly 4 million square meters. It is the first land in Qatar to be available for freehold ownership by foreign nationals.
In 2015 Fifa confirmed that the 2022 World Cup will be hosted by Qatar in November, the first time the international tournament will not be held in summer. In preparation, Qatar is building eight stadia. These are designed so that after the Games, six of these stadia would be disassembled and given away to other Muslim countries without stadia.
Construction of the subway is under way to reduce traffic congestion. The Doha Metro is a rapid-transit train scheduled to be on stream by the end of 2019. It will have four lines with an approximate overall length of 300 km and will have 100 stations. It will be an integral component of the larger Qatar Rail network, which will include a long-distance rail for passengers and freight, linking Qatar to the GCC, and Lusail’s city local light- rail transit.
Where to go
For Filipinos, must-visit sites include Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). It was designed by IM Pei, the same guy who added the pyramid to the Louvre Museum in Paris. The MIA is influenced by ancient Islamic architecture, and was the first of its kind in the Persian Gulf. It sits on an artificial island, surrounded by a park and has one of the largest collections of Islamic art.
The National Museum of Qatar (NMQ) nearby is almost finished, and, like the MIA, it is located at Doha’s Corniche, a waterfront promenade extending several kilometers on the Doha Bay.
“The NMQ will give voice to Qatar’s heritage, while celebrating its future,” said Marhaba, Qatar’s premier information guide. Here, visitors can learn about Qatar’s ancestors and the formation of early cities, as well as the modernization of Qatari society.
For inveterate shoppers, there is Villagio Mall, a knock-off of Las Vegas’s and Macau’s Bellagio shopping malls. It has also that iconic Venetian canal and a signing gondolier, only much bigger. There’s also the City Center, where malls as big as ours line the streets along the eclectic skyscrapers.
With so much money in their hands, what do the regular Qatari citizens do to while the time away?
Some engage in the royal sport of falconry. Some of these feathered friends cost as much as P1 million per bird and a regular practitioner must have dozens of them. The Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital is dedicated to keeping falcons healthy. They have an operating room for birds injured in the pursuit of prey, performed by licensed surgeons.
For souvenirs, Doha’s Souq Waqif is the place to go. It is a typical Arab bazaar noted for selling traditional garments, spices, handicrafts and souvenirs. It is also home to dozens of restaurants and Shisha lounges, another name for hookah lounge where patrons, students and yuppies share shisha from a communal hookah, or which is placed at each table.
Hookah lounges do not typically have liquor but get their revenue from sales of coffee, tea or sodas and snacks. Almost all offer Turkish coffee.
Qataris enjoy driving those supercars and top-of-the-line motorcycles and racing speed boats along the Gulf and had regular races for such events. They have regular exhibitions of antique cars and motorbikes, and just about any social and cultural activities you can name.
At night, Qataris are patrons of five-star hotel bars and lounges, where some—believe it or not—belt out long pent-up passions expressed through songs in karaoke machines.
One of the largest projects under way in Qatar is Lusail City, a planned community north of Doha which is estimated to be completed by 2020 at a cost of approximately $45 billion. It is designed to accommodate 450,000 people. Al Waab City, another planned community under development, is estimated to cost Qatari riyal 15 billion. In addition to housing 8,000 individuals, it will also have shopping malls, educational and medical facilities, according to Wikipedia.
Since 2004, Doha has been undergoing a huge expansion to its transportation network, including the addition of new highways, the opening of a new airport in 2014, and the ongoing construction of an 85-km metro system. These have all been a result of Doha’s massive growth in a short period of time, which has resulted in congestion on its roads. The first phase of the metro system is expected to be operational by 2019.
In 2015 the Public Works Authority declared its plan to construct a free-flowing road directly linking Al-Wakrah and Mesaieed to Doha in order to decrease traffic congestion in the city. It is set for completion by 2018.
These ribbons of highways are where Qataris drive their expensive vehicles, like Lamborghinis and Ferraris, and top-of-the-line motorbikes in unwarranted numbers. (Source)
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