While Qatar puts the pedal to the metal on its tourism de­vel­op­ment strat­egy, there are some fun­da­men­tal is­sues that only com­mit­ted tourism re­search can solve. Qatar To­day takes a look at the ex­tent of in­dus­try-academia part­ner­ship in this sec­tor and how early re­search can im­pact how the in­dus­try grows.

When an­nounc­ing the Na­tional Tourism Strat­egy 2030, Qatar Tourism Au­thor­ity ex­plained how it was de­vel­oped after lengthy con­sul­ta­tions with var­i­ous stake­hold­ers, both in the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors – Min­istry of Cul­ture, Arts and Her­itage, Qatar Mu­se­ums, Qatar Air­ways, Mowasalat, ho­tels, travel agen­cies...the list is long. But no­tably ab­sent are any aca­demic or re­search in­sti­tu­tions. As of yet QTA hasn't re­sponded when asked whether any such en­tity was in­volved in the draft­ing of the plan. But if there weren't, as seems to be the case, it would seem like a se­ri­ous over­sight, con­sid­er­ing how much academia can con­trib­ute to­wards un­der­stand­ing the di­rec­tion of tourism and its im­pact on the so­ci­ety.

To un­der­stand this re­la­tion­ship – as it stands now and what it could po­ten­tially be­come – we pay a visit to Sten­den Qatar, the coun­try's only in­sti­tute that of­fers cour­ses in hos­pi­tal­ity man­age­ment and tourism man­age­ment. Ali Ab­dulla is Se­nior Lec­turer and the Act­ing Pro­gramme Leader for tourism man­age­ment. Sten­den demon­strated its ea­ger­ness to en­gage with the in­dus­try ear­lier in Fe­bru­ary this year with the Tourism in To­mor­row's World con­fer­ence, which brought to­gether QTA, QM, Katara Hos­pi­tal­ity and many other play­ers. Partly owned by art con­nois­seur, col­lec­tor and busi­ness­man Sheikha Faisal bin Qas­sim Al Thani, Sten­den, along with its par­ent univer­sity in the Nether­lands, has a spe­cial in­ter­est and a wealth of ex­per­tise in this sec­tor. It is watch­ing closely what QTA is do­ing, al­beit from the out­side. While not part of the na­tional tourism strat­egy, Sten­den is de­vel­op­ing a par­al­lel strat­egy that aligns with what the coun­try is plan­ning to do, so that it is able to meet the fu­ture hu­man re­sources needs. “QTA is an im­por­tant part­ner for us. With Qatar's fo­cus on tourism de­vel­op­ment and us be­ing the only tourism school here, we rely on each other very deeply,” says Ab­dulla.

Al­ready, Ab­dulla says, their grad­u­ates are in high de­mand, all of them be­ing placed as soon as they com­plete their course. QTA is an ob­vi­ous choice and ab­sorbs many of their stu­dents. And if a min­istry of tourism is es­tab­lished, he ex­pects this num­ber to go even higher. Their stu­dents have also gone on to find em­ploy­ment with Qatar Mu­se­ums and some of the em­bassies. Sten­den re­cently in­tro­duced a short three-month tour guide pro­gramme at QTA's re­quest. “This course, which is of­fered in both English and Ara­bic, trains pro­fes­sional guides who can lead tours at many of the coun­try's popular tourist spots like Souq Waqif, Al Wakra, Ba­nana Is­land, Al Khor, Zubarah, etc. and demon­strate to vis­i­tors what Qatar has to of­fer,” he says. After wit­ness­ing the suc­cess of this course, QM has also now ap­proached Sten­den to tai­lor a pro­gramme for them.

This re­la­tion­ship with the in­dus­try is in its nascent stage and is grow­ing slowly, he says. “Qatar's tourism in­dus­try is still de­vel­op­ing and new com­pa­nies are be­ing es­tab­lished ev­ery day. Once they start plan­ning their mis­sion and vi­sion, they'll start seek­ing us for col­lab­o­ra­tion,” he says. With the state's multi-pronged strat­egy that tar­gets sports, cul­ture, sun-sea-sand and MICE tourism, the po­ten­tial for part­ner­ships is im­mense, with Sten­den ca­pa­ble of “im­ple­ment­ing our learn­ing in which­ever field it is needed” but this is not yet on the hori­zon. “I ex­pect they'll ap­proach us close to the events for our knowl­edge and ex­per­tise,” Ab­dulla says when asked if they have a di­a­logue go­ing with the Supreme Com­mit­tee of Legacy and De­liv­ery or any of the sport­ing bod­ies. “It's still early and I ex­pect they are cur­rently con­cen­trat­ing on in­fra­struc­ture rather than brain force.”

But th­ese ‘soft is­sues' should also be ad­dressed and de­vel­oped in tan­dem with in­fra­struc­ture. “Tourism strat­egy is not all about money spent on build­ings. That's just a tiny part of the story,” says Con­rad Lash­ley, Se­nior Re­searcher at the Sten­den home cam­pus in the Nether­lands. “Strat­egy, de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with one or more univer­si­ties, should be about giv­ing peo­ple a unique ex­pe­ri­ence that re­flects the lo­cal life of its peo­ple,” he says and it's

im­me­di­ately clear this is where Qatar hits its first road­block. Who is go­ing to tell the story of Qatar? The In­dian taxi driver? The Filipino ho­tel re­cep­tion­ist? The Euro­pean guest re­la­tion­ship of­fi­cer? The Amer­i­can mu­seum ex­pert? There is a def­i­nite need to cre­ate a “sense of ‘Qatar­ness.'” But how can this be done with Qataris con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence in the front line?

Given that Qataris rep­re­sent 15% of the pop­u­la­tion and that there is a prob­lem with the per­cep­tion of ser­vice among the mid­dle and up­per-mid­dle class (not just in Qatar but also glob­ally), this is a prob­lem that re­quires some se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion. Dr John Ap, As­so­ciate Dean of the In­ter­na­tional Tourism Man­age­ment Pro­gramme at Sten­den Qatar, says: “When peo­ple come to Qatar, they want to meet a Qatari. But there is no con­tact with a lo­cal ex­pert at the im­mi­gra­tion counter. We took our stu­dents on a field trip to Al Zubarah re­cently and the tour guide was Pol­ish. Though she was very good, it's not the same as a Qatari talk­ing about his or her own cul­ture and his­tory.” Pro­fes­sor Con­rad made a sim­i­lar ob­ser­va­tion dur­ing his visit to Qatar: “Qatar needs to start think­ing about what they are pro­mot­ing. The Arab cul­ture is rich and di­verse and can be an at­trac­tive fea­ture of tourism to the Mid­dle East; it has to be show­cased, one way or another.”

Imag­ine you went to Souq Waqif and saw only tourists, asks Dr Ap. How au­then­tic would that be? “But the Qatari gov­ern­ment has re­de­vel­oped it thought­fully and ap­pro­pri­ately. The restau­rants, bou­tique ho­tels and shee­sha bars ap­peal to tourists and lo­cals alike, but also there are cer­tain every­day Qatari items that you can get only at the Souq and not in the shop­ping malls. So when I see a lot of the lo­cals go­ing there, I can tell the gov­ern­ment has done this right,” he says.

But how can aca­demic re­search help with some of th­ese prob­lems? Pro­fes­sor Lash­ley was charged with com­ing up with a re­search strat­egy for the In­ter­na­tional Hos­pi­tal­ity Man­age­ment School at Sten­den Leeuwar­den. As a re­sult, they have in­tro­duced three pro­fes­so­rial posts on hos­pi­tal­ity stud­ies, in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tions and sus­tain­abil­ity. The first is Pro­fes­sor Lash­ley's pet sub­ject. “It's based on the idea I have been pro­mot­ing that whilst pro­grammes about train­ing and de­vel­op­ment are needed, there is also a clear need to study about the na­ture of hos­pi­tal­ity and hos­pitable­ness. The cul­tural her­itage of hos­pitable­ness is in­ter­na­tional and cov­ers all re­li­gions, which all have un­der­ly­ing themes on the moral­ity of hos­pi­tal­ity. Be kind to a stranger, wel­come him, give him shel­ter. Th­ese are univer­sal. But some­where along the way the in­dus­try has lost sight of this,” he says. Which is why any strat­egy must ac­count for mak­ing sure ev­ery­one on the front­line – peo­ple at ho­tels, vis­i­tor cen­tres, taxi driv­ers, wait­ers at restau­rants – all un­der­stand the kind of ser­vice that is re­quired. “Par­al­lel to that is the need to be well in­formed through an ac­tive re­search cul­ture about the na­ture of the guests, why they are com­ing, what they want and what they think hos­pitable­ness is about. This whole pack­age of train­ing and re­search needs a bud­get and a strat­egy,” he says.

Sten­den Qatar re­cently started talk­ing about a ser­vice man­age­ment pro­gram, Dr Ap says, and this is the best thing that could hap­pen. “We train staff on cer­tain be­hav­iour but do not fo­cus on the ra­tio­nale be­hind why it is an im­por­tant to do what you are told to do. The relation be­tween tourism be­hav­iour and so­cial psy­chol­ogy is in­ter­est­ing as­pect but a lot of tourism re­search fo­cuses on HR, man­age­ment, op­er­a­tions, sales and mar­ket­ing, etc, rather than this. For me, un­der­stand­ing the psy­chol­ogy of a guest and the host is much more re­ward­ing,” he says, talk­ing about his PhD re­search which looked at res­i­dents' per­cep­tion to­wards tourism. He is hop­ing to work on some­thing sim­i­lar in Qatar.

“I have ap­plied for two re­search projects at Qatar Foun­da­tion. One is on the com­mu­nity at­ti­tude to­wards cul­tural her­itage and iden­tity and the re­lated tourism. It pro­poses to study the im­pact of tourism and how peo­ple per­ceive it. When you think tourism you gen­er­ally fo­cus on eco­nomic ben­e­fits and de­vel­op­ment of in­fra­struc­ture. But equally im­por­tant is the so­cial and cul­tural im­pact on the host com­mu­nity. What is go­ing to be the im­pact of the World Cup 2022 on Qatari and Ara­bic cul­ture, es­pe­cially with the ques­tions around al­co­hol? Are you ex­pect­ing the Western foot­ball fans to go dry dur­ing the games? What does this mean for the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion? It's im­por­tant to re­search th­ese top­ics to un­der­stand the prob­lems and con­cerns likely to arise out of host­ing the Games or tourism in gen­eral,” he ex­plains.

Th­ese big­ger ques­tions aside, re­search can ben­e­fit even the small­est play­ers in the in­dus­try. And with tourism largely dom­i­nated by SMEs who don't have ac­cess to academia, it's im­por­tant for the state to take the first step. Pro­fes­sor Lash­ley says, “In the UK there is a fair amount of in­vest­ment in re­search funded largely by the pub­lic sec­tor or public­sec­tor-sup­ported bod­ies that rep­re­sent the in­dus­try.” But fund­ing re­search is just the tip of the ice­berg. Im­ple­ment­ing the re­sults of the stud­ies is much harder. “There are a num­ber of ways that this can be or­gan­ised. Set­ting up some form of qual­ity li­cens­ing sys­tem which ex­tends star rat­ing to in­clude ser­vice qual­ity, etc., is one ap­proach,” he adds.

Un­for­tu­nately, Qatar has a long way to go. There is very lit­tle hap­pen­ing around tourism re­search here. Even on crit­i­cal is­sues like de­vel­op­ment of the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try. “My im­pres­sion is that ho­tel de­vel­op­ment is largely driven by peo­ple who are in­vest­ing in prop­erty and there is no se­ri­ous link­age be­tween the likely growth in tourism de­mand.” Another area that needs at­ten­tion but is not on the pri­or­ity list is re­search about sus­tain­able tourism; for a coun­try like Qatar, it's im­por­tant to study what kind of pres­sure a grow­ing tourism sec­tor will put on its crit­i­cal re­sources like food and wa­ter. Equally im­por­tant is to un­der­stand the mo­ti­va­tions of the Qatari com­mu­nity, what they think about their cul­ture, how they judge the im­pact of ex­ter­nal in­flu­ences on it and what they want to project to the world out­side

CON­RAD LASH­LEY Se­nior Re­searcher Sten­den Leeuwar­den, the Nether­lands

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