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Qatar Airways plans to fly to some 26 new destinations in the coming year, including to the northern California city of San Francisco, the airline has announced.

Other new routes include Cardiff, UK; Utapao, Thailand; Chittagong, Bangladesh; Mykonos, Greece; Málaga, Spain; Accra, Ghana; Lisbon, Portugal; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Prague, Czech Republic; Kiev, Ukraine and Mombasa, Kenya, the airline said in a statement.

The 12 routes will all launch in 2018, and are in addition to 14 already announced destinations for 2017-2018.

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The view from Mount Taylor, Canberra

Those include Dublin, Rio de Janeiro, Canberra in Australia, Santiago in Chile and Medan in Indonesia.

Speaking to reporters at the annual Arabian Travel Market in Dubai this week, CEO Akbar Al Baker said that if the airline’s aircraft orders come in on time, all 26 new routes will begin by March 2018.

That’s the end of Qatar’s financial year.

US routes

Qatar Airways already flies nonstop from Doha to 10 US cities, including Los Angeles.

It also has plans to launch a route to Las Vegas early next year, though this has now been pushed back to the second quarter of 2018, Bloomberg reports.

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The new US destinations come despite a drop in bookings following a new electronics ban onboard planes flying directly from the Middle East to the states.

According to AP, Al Baker said the airline was not deterred by recent events, including questions about potential visa bans on certain passengers.

“Qatar Airways does not plan and will not reduce frequencies to the United States. I am sure that these uncertainties that passengers have soon could be resolved by statements from the United States’ government.”

Cardiff

While both of Qatar Airways’ Gulf competitors already fly to San Francisco, Qatar will be the first to launch a direct service to Cardiff, the capital of Wales.

The airline has not yet disclosed how many times per week it plans to fly to the city.

Michel Curi/Flickr

Cardiff Castle

However, the route should also allow Qatar Airways to reach new customers who have previously been unable to fly long-haul from their local airport.

According to Cardiff Airport, more than 1 million passengers travel every year from Wales to destinations that are on the Qatar Airways network, and more than 90 percent of these currently have to travel via London.

Cardiff will be the airline’s fifth current UK route, in addition to London Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh.

Thoughts?

All photos by Reem Saad

Saeed Al-Mohannadi has been a vociferous comic book reader and collector since he was a kid. But feeding that habit while growing up in his native country of Qatar was tough.

Now 26 years old, Al-Mohannadi is the founder of Qatar’s first comic book store, which soft-launched over the weekend.

Speaking to Doha News, he explained: “Doha never had a place that gave (me) my fix for comic books. So I decided (with a few friends) to create that place.”

Reem Saad / Doha News

Doha Comics

The store is located inside the Pearl-Qatar’s Qanat Quartier neighborhood, and is currently open from 4pm to 10pm daily.

Selection

On Instagram, Doha Comics describes itself as a new “pop-culture specialty store” that has a “never-ending stock of comics.”

It carries mostly trade paperbacks and Japanese comic books (manga).

But it also sells related items such as collectible action figures, artwork, accessories like keychains and mugs, posters and clothing.

���We have about 1,500 comic books on display at the moment, with hundreds more on the way,” Al-Mohannadi said.

Prices for the books start at QR40, he added.

Comic book culture

Doha Comics isn’t the first store in Qatar to carry certain types of comic books.

In 2014, the country’s first anime and manga toy shop, Hobby Chan, received a warm welcome from residents.

Chantelle D'mello

Hobby Chan

This was in part because the newlywed owners put a face on a growing local subculture of video game and anime enthusiasts.

According to Al-Mohannadi, however, his store is different in that its main focus revolves around comic books and comic book culture.

Importing issues

Like any business in Qatar that sells books, Doha Comics faces importing restrictions.

Qatar’s culture ministry has the final say on which publications can enter and be sold in the country.

Reem Saad / Doha News

Doha Comics

It has in the past rejected content dubbed questionable to the nation’s traditions and values.

Arduous regulations are one reason why the store cannot offer the latest weekly releases of comic books in a timely fashion, Al-Mohannadi said.

He added:

“We do appreciate the efforts and challenges being faced by local authorities to balance conserving the fabric of local culture whilst trying to edge forward with the vision put in place for the future – though the process can sometimes feel extensive.”

How ministry rules will affect the store’s business in the future remains to be seen.

Growing Pearl

The comic book store is one of two dozen new restaurants and shops that have opened at the Pearl-Qatar in recent months.

Last week, island operator UDC announced that some 300 retailers are now operating on the Pearl.

It added that over 10 million vehicles have visited the island over the past year.

UDC

The Pearl-Qatar

The increase comes despite the fact that there’s only one road linking the Pearl to the rest of Doha, which can make it difficult for motorists to leave during peak traffic times.

Residents have previously expressed concerns about the safety and security implications of having just one exit point.

Developers pledged last fall to look into building a new access road to get on and off the island.

But UDC made no mention of this in its latest statement, and did not respond to requests for an update on the subject.

Thoughts?

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Fireworks during the Qatar Shopping Festival

Urgent action must be taken to protect the future of tourism in Qatar, managers from several leading hotels in the country have said.

Speaking at the recent Hotelier Qatar Hospitality Summit, representatives from the Grand Hyatt, Intercontinental and the Four Seasons Doha all said that their hotels were experiencing a significant drop in business.

“It is clearly a down market,” Hotelier Middle East reported Four Seasons Doha general manager Todd Cilano as saying.

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He added that tackling the issue was a “community challenge, not an individual hotel challenge.”

Meanwhile, the general manager of the Intercontinental Doha stated that a destination marketing strategy must be devised “urgently.”

“Time and speed is of the essence,” Andreas Pfister said. “We need to be ready for the future. We need to plan today and get our act together for the next three to five years.”

By the numbers

The Qatar Tourism Authority has not released any visitor figures this year. The last official statistics it reported were in the third quarter of 2016, when it showed a year-on-year drop in visitors.

However, the government does keep track of hotel health.

Doha News

Average occupancy rates

According to the Ministry of Development and Planning Statistics (MDPS), hotel occupancy rates rose slightly from January to February of this year, the most recent data available.

But year-on-year, it only rose 3 percent for five-star hotels, while falling 4 percent for four-star hotels.

Doha News

Average room rates

Meanwhile, the more affordable three-star hotels saw occupancy jump 12 percent year-on-year since February 2016.

Still, the average room rate fell for all hotel types, down by QR60 to QR20/room.

Price cuts ‘not the answer’

Despite this trend, Cilano argued that hotels should not keep dropping their prices.

Four Seasons Hotel Doha/Facebook

Four Seasons Doha

Doing so would not increase tourism in the long run, he argued.

Cilano added that the Four Seasons was relying instead on the strength of its brand and its emphasis on quality – a strategy that he said has so far proven successful.

However, in a report last year, Colliers urged Qatar’s hospitality industry to slash room rates and offer more interesting dining options to attract guests during the ongoing economic slowdown.

Focus on food and drink

Investing in food and drink options as a way of generating more revenue is an idea that hotel managers appear to agree with.

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Though room bookings are not rising much at luxury hotels, managers said that they were still experiencing growth at their bars and restaurants.

These are popular with Qatar’s residents as well as tourists.

Referring to F&B offerings, the Intercon’s Pfister said that trying to generate growth with only room sales would be “a struggle.”

He emphasized, however, the importance of continuing to deliver good service in a downturn, rather than just focusing on profits.

GCC tourists still key

During the hospitality conference, some managers discussed the demographics of Qatar’s visitors.

Reem Saad / Doha News

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Some 46.1 percent of all visitors to Qatar last year came from other Gulf countries, according to TRI Consulting.

The QTA is hoping to change that, but Cilano said that plan is only a “medium-to-long term” goal.

“The conscious push to move away from GCC markets and attract more international visitors – that’s simply not happening right now. We’ve got to fish where the fish are and in the short term, they’re in the GCC,” he said.

He added that in order to attract tourists from countries like China, Qatar needs to up its game.

Mainland China

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He suggested translating visa forms into Mandarin, hiring more people who speak the language, offering authentic Chinese food in hotels and malls and establishing a presence on the Chinese social network Wechat.

Last year, Qatar also announced plans to begin offering visas on arrival for people from China, as well as India and Russia.

Thoughts?