Although I have been travelling a lot in the UAE and other Gulf countries for almost 20 years, Qatar was not on my list. Like many, I thought the country was a little Dubai. But when my jobtook me to Doha, I asked myself: ‚Why wasn‘t I here before?” Kai Böcking
As luck would have it, a good friend went to Doha two years ago to open one of the most spectacular hotels in the world as a kitchen director. So I visited him there and have been to the hotel again now (my Raffles Doha report starts on page 29). My first Doha visit was a few months before the World Cup. The country – as big as Hesse in Germany and with
85 % of its inhabitants foreigners – has pushed ahead with its modernisation for the big event. The master plan was (and is) to be a modern, cosmopolitan country, with business and leisure as pillars.
Inland sea, mangrove island & more
“Tidy“, is my first thought as I roll over the wide corniche from the gigantic Hamad International Airport into the city. At the airport I buy a tourist SIM card, order an Uber and diligently post first impressions. The gigantic confinement of other Gulf states with thousands of mega-buildings does not exist in Doha. The skyscrapers create a real skyline here – no “after tomorrow design“. Instead, in Doha you should get involved with the Arab culture and hospitality. Qataris are proud of it and smart enough to invite other
cultures into their country to
get to know them.
For me, who travels on business and at the same time being leasure freak, this country is a big surprise with its many great hotels, museums and variety of leisure activities. Sure, there are lots of air-conditioned shopping malls and a brand new metro, but also exquisite restaurants, beach clubs and traditional markets.
The real big surprise for me, however, are the possibilities outside the capital. 80 km from Doha, you can have lots of fun in the sand in Khor Al Adaid – by quad, car, camel. A unique feature here, according to UNESCO, is the Inland sea that meets the dunes. A dream spot for a sunset. Qatar also offers a mangrove island: Purple Island or Bin Ghanim Island is an hour from Doha away and a must-see leisure trip.
And remote work? Absolutely. The Wi-Fi is outstanding in the country. If you want to stay longer: foreigners can now also buy flats in Doha.
New work in the air
Speaking of remote work: I also broke new ground on the flight to Doha. After all, let‘s look back: What were long-distance business flights like in the 1990s? I remember uncomfortable business class seats that could not be adjusted to sleeping position and two films per flight on a screen in front of the plane. If you wanted to work, you could only do it by handwriting or until the battery of the first laptop ran out. Only the crew had electricity on board, but there were permanently installed telephones at some seats. And today? Remote work is the buzzword of the bleisure society and must also work on the plane. Mobile freedom above the clouds – that‘s what the mega-airline Qatar Airways calls it and offers to guests of all classes. I start my new work experience in the airline lounge.
After the pandemic, the competitors on the market have either downsized or – like the premium airline from Doha – stepped up a gear again. Haman International Airport alone is worth a trip: for the World Cup, the “playground for travellers“ was enlarged once again – with The Orchard, a 5,500-square-metre garden inside the expanded central terminal, which can be used free of charge, including WLAN. I open my laptop in the newest Qatar Airways lounge after a blazing fast check-in and about ten minutes by train and foot: The Al Mourjan Business Garden Lounge has been open since March this year with 7,390 square metres of space for 700 passengers and a view of The Orchard. The airline itself confidently calls the new lounge “Ultimate decadence“. I could retire to one of the 24 private rooms, but the lounge is relatively empty, and I am passing the sushi counter and self-service buffets on my way to the à la carte restaurant with open cuisine around the clock.
I usually only know something like this from the top first class lounges in the frequent flyer world. And when the spa and gym are also in operation in the future, the lounge will set completely new standards.
On the plane, I get to know the Qsuite of Qatar Airways Business Class, which Skytrax currently lists as the best Business Class in the world. It is a kind of miniature of the lounge with a special feauture: the suites can be booked for single travellers, couples or up to four colleagues, for example, sitting opposite each other here. I have a single window seat. A scarlet door separates me from my fellow passengers. There are plenty of storage areas, loading and connection options. At cruising altitude, I go online without any problems and stay that way for most of the six-hour flight. The “no-connection air holes“ were only very brief. Otherwise, the speed surprised me. I downloaded a film for an acceptance test, processed mails, in between ate a delicious Angus steak from the small, fine service offer. Yes, you can now work well above the clouds and exchange information with colleagues. The only disadvantage is that the Qsuite is not (yet) available on all of the airline‘s aircrafts.
Two hotels, one landmark
There are many exciting 4- and 5-star hotels in Doha for business and leisure. But since the 2022 World Cup, the Raffles and Fairmont Doha, with its half-moon shape, has become a landmark. But half moon is not quite right. The design of the new Accor flagship hotel in the Arabian region actually represents two crossed scimitars, in reference to the Qatari National Seal. But they didn‘t stop at such subtleties when this enormous double hotel was planned more than ten years ago: a Raffles All Suite Hotel on one side and a Fairmont on the other, with 500 suites and rooms, 18 restaurants, bars and cafés and equipped with no shyness about superlatives. Here hangs not only the highest chandelier in the world, it also sparkles the largest digital kaleidoscope on the planet. The task of hotel director Christian Hirt and his gourmet mastermind Dirk Haltenhof was: “Open the best hotel on the Persian Gulf here by the start of the World Cup“, and they delivered.
The furnishings and design of both almost 211 m high hotels are quite different. The Fairmont rooms are light with fine smooth woods and marble, the Raffles Suites are heavier, darker, more luxurious – grand hotel feeling in its most modern form. Culinary-wise, guests can choose anything. Whether Italian in the first offshoot of Enrico Crippa‘s legendary Alba, Indian in the fine-dining area of the Masala Library or in the Latin American market, the Vaja. I also find the Provok at the Fairmont exciting with its drinks as a journey along the Silk Road and with the in-house mixology department. Later in the evening, the DJ plays music and people meet on the roof terrace to watch the stars.
Kai Böcking …
… was surprised during his last visit in July that Qatar offers a different experience than other Gulf states. “It‘s smaller, prettier, nicer,“ he says. Unfortunately he couldn’t tick this one off his bucket list: see whale sharks! They regularly pass by the coast during the summer.
Bleisure Tipps Qatar
After quad-fun in the dunes and kayaking in the Khor Al Adaid Nature Reserve, those in search of ultimate relaxation can stay at the latest glamping hotspot, The Outpost Al Barari.
National Museum of Qatar: Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, it is modelled on the shape of a fossilised desert flower. Inside you will find everything worth knowing about Qatar.
Doha‘s Smart City is Msheireb Downtown: a mix of ultra-modern houses, hotels, cafés and restaurants in the tradition of Arab architectural styles. Certified for its sustainable construction.
Fotos: © Qatar Tourism, Qatar Airways, Böcking