Destinations editor Eric Moya is visiting Qatar on a fam designed to showcase the country's attributes as a layover destination. His dispatch follows.
It's hard not to fall back on "a study in contrasts" cliches when considering a country like Qatar. That's the nature of a cosmopolitan destination whose roots date back centuries and whose workforce is largely made up of citizens of other nations.
As Qatar readies for the 2022 World Cup spotlight, ramping up what was by most accounts already a breakneck pace of infrastructure development, my time in the capital of Doha has shown me -- culturally speaking, anyway -- that Qatar is well prepared to accommodate the international demographic it hopes will visit during the soccer tournament, and beyond.
Take Illusion, the lounge at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski, which a colleague and I visited on the second night of our Doha fam. When we arrived, two dancers were about halfway through a Cirque du Soleil-type routine.
Cut to the cover band whose set list included the Dick Dale surf classic "Miserlou," folk tune "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (likely inspired by the Rednex version from the '90s) and Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin.'" Then a DJ set whose playlist included Latin pop hits such as the reggaeton-tinged "Bailando" by Enrique Iglesias and Sean Paul (evidence that at least one DJ in Doha is already World Cup-ready).
In addition, there was the staff: a Hungarian bar manager, a Filipino server, a publicist from the Czech Republic and so on --- expat employees serving up international fare and entertainment to a largely expat crowd.
You might be wondering whether there is an "authentic" Qatar to discover amid all the international influences. After all, it is, despite ancient roots, a young country, gaining independence from Britain in 1971.
Certainly, attending attractions such as Doha's Museum of Islamic Art, with its impressive collection of tapestries and other artifacts from throughout the Middle East and beyond, and the Msheireb Museums, chronicling the people and industries that laid the foundation for modern Qatar, illustrated that, yes, those looking for some cultural insight during their visit won't come up short.
Those cultural aspects, in fact, are an important part of how Qatar tourism officials are looking to position the destination in comparison with Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
But equally instructive were experiences such as our desert safari about 90 minutes outside Doha, where we engaged in dune bashing in SUVs, that quintessentially modern Mideast tourist experience. We were hosted for lunch by Regency Holidays' desert camp, which strives for "a blend of traditional Arabian design and modern comfort," as its website puts it. It was an afternoon of camel rides and Land Cruisers. Lamb chops, but also French fries. WiFi, of course.
Then there was the annual Qatar International Food Festival outside the Sheraton Grand Doha, with vendors of traditional Middle Eastern fare alongside Johnny Rockets and Filipino fast-food purveyor Jollibee as well as Evergreen Organics, Qatar's first all-vegan restaurant -- just a hint of the breadth of the country's culinary offerings.
To use a well-worn phrase, Qatar seems to have something for everyone, which is a powerful attribute for a destination looking to expand its appeal as a stopover for travelers from the U.S. and elsewhere. Further, for me these experiences illustrated that as the country embraces its past and plans for the future, the history of the authentic Qatar -- multicultural, modern, rapidly developing -- is being written now.