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A modern and thriving region in the heart of traditional Arabia

The announcement in December last year that the 2022 FIFA World Cup would be held in Qatar has placed this tiny country on the shores of the Arabian Peninsula firmly into the spotlight.

And what has been uncovered is a modern and thriving region in the heart of traditional Arabia. With sprawling dunes in the country’s south, sandy coastlines and islets, reefs and salt flats, Qatar offers natural beauty and cultural richness in abundance.

These assets will serve it well over the next 11 years as it cultivates its tourism and events program to attract a regular flow of visitors which will keep the hotel rooms, restaurants and stadia full post 2022. In pursuit of this aim, while embracing modernity and development, Qatar is staying true to its cultural and historic roots.

The capital, Doha, is home to the Museum of Islamic Art, which is recognised as the leading museum of its kind in the World and boasts one of the largest and finest collections from one of the world’s great civilizations. With pieces representing more than 1400 years of civilization and a building that has become an architectural icon, the museum is the jewel in Qatar’s cultural crown.

At Katara Cultural Village, Doha’s latest attraction, you can find many of the country’s artistic and cultural organizations, which include the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and the Doha Tribeca International Film Festival. And for the shoppers, Doha’s authentically preserved Souqs, are great places to discover local treasures. The best known, Souq Waqif, dates back over 100 years and is renowned for selling traditional garments, spices, handicrafts and souvenirs and is also home to dozens of restaurants. It has also become a hotspot for art galleries and concerts.

Get out of the city, and the vast deserts offer a sandy playground for the more adventurous – from camel back safaris, to exhilarating rides along the dunes and wonderful nights beneath the stars in luxury Bedouin tents. Learn to sand ski, or hop in a jeep for a spot of dune bashing (a high octane 4x4 drive up the impossibly steep sides of the dunes).

In stark contrast to the desert, with its 560km coastline, Qatar is a community linked with the sea. From a centre for fishing and pearling trades in a bygone era, Qatar’s identity has been shaped by an age-old seafaring civilization.

This tradition is alive today, albeit on a far grander scale - the first phase of a new $4.4 billion Doha Port is currently in development and by 2014 will handle some of the world’s largest ships. With the completion of the port, the ultimate vision is also to make Qatar a not to be missed stage and stopover on Middle East maritime cruise routes.

Among numerous other developments, planning is underway for the Qatar-Bahrain Friendship Causeway, the world’s longest suspension bridge, which will link the two countries.

For now, business trips account for the vast majority of visitors to Qatar, and with two huge new convention centres opening this year and next, this looks like it will stay this way for some time. But mixing business with pleasure is not a new concept, and those who decide to extend their stays, or spend a night in Doha en route to other places will find there is so much more to this destination than the World Cup.

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