Doha to overtake Dubai?

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By Damian Reilly  www.arabianbusiness.com

“It’s like Dubai, ten years ago,” is a description of places in the Gulf that are not Dubai so well worn it is a surprise it has not yet been co-opted by the tourist boards of Doha, Manama and Kuwait, to name only three. It would look good on t-shirts, perhaps – appealing to those who don’t like the glitz and pace of the UAE’s most famous destination.

Dubai was a $100bn project, HH Maktoum bin Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, possibly conservatively, recently told delegates at a conference organised by this magazine, $100bn spent judiciously over the last two decades. That was the cost of the infrastructure, he said, and the result of that spending was Dubai’s preeminence amongst the leading cities of the GCC.  It would take at least a decade for anywhere else in the region to catch up, he added. And the cost of doing so, of course, at today’s prices would be a good deal more than $100bn.

The thing is, there are at least three places in the GCC with a good deal more than $100bn to spend, and the will to do it. Money alone won’t be enough, of course, there are many other factors to consider. And Dubai is established in the global consciousness now – trying to overhaul a ten year start would be desperately difficult for any would-be rival.

Of all the cities in the region, though, as of the moment FIFA President Sepp Blatter pulled Qatar’s name out of the envelope as the host for the 2022 World Cup, Doha has the best opportunity to do it. If the city now lags a decade behind Dubai in terms of infrastructure and prestige, even without a World Cup that gap would surely have closed dramatically by 2020. Qatar is the second richest country on Earth per capita. In 2011 it is predicting GDP growth of over sixteen percent. And it is embarking, exactly as Dubai did, on a massive state spending plan designed to stimulate private sector enterprise. Each of those factors is a siren call to multinationals across all sectors.

But with the World Cup in Qatar, anything is now possible. Whatever delegates from nations whose bids failed might say, hosting the competition is an opportunity money can’t buy. ‘Sleepy’ Doha in the summer of 2022 is now guaranteed to be the most famous city on the planet, as audiences of billions tune in to the games. Between now and then some $57bn has been earmarked on infrastructure alone for the football matches, and accommodation and transportation for fans. Roads will be dug, hotels will be erected, sewage systems will be installed. A metro will be built. The causeway to Bahrain will be completed. And Qatar Airways will receive an enormous boost.

And that $57bn is only for the football. Already the government’s spending on non-football related infrastructure was believed to be in the region of $80bn, with plenty more where that came from. Qatar is now – for anyone capable of lending a hand in nation building, or putting on the greatest party ever seen – the biggest opportunity going. It’s where the action is.

And in 2022, the other Gulf cities will only be able to look on, like dormitory towns, as Doha takes centre stage. It’s an incredible and unlikely coup. If Qatar can pull it off – and there are many who believe it won’t – then the glory could very well propel it past its neighbours as the destination of choice in the GCC. How’s that for a goal?

As forward thinking business people, I expect you have by now all worked out your schemes for capitalising on Doha’s success. No doubt you have booked out all of the rooms in the Four Seasons for June, 2022, all the better to sell them at the time. Or something like that.

A plea: please no vuvuzuelas, or Arab-style equivalents thereof. They ruined South Africa 2010.