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They are the Oscars of the travel industry. Attended by some of the most important decision-makers in the business, and hosted in ever more salubrious surroundings, the World Travel Awards WTA are the tourism sector's most coveted accolades. And last Monday evening Qatar scooped no fewer than nine of the regional awards on offer at a glittering ceremony held in Dubai. But it is the title of ‘Middle East's Leading Business Travel Destination’ that has people talking, for it further confirms Doha as a world-class capital for commerce and communication.
And it is surely no coincidence that, together with the travel destination award, the Qatar National Convention Centre QNCC was named ‘Middle East's Leading Exhibition & Convention Centre.’ For the two awards go hand in hand. Around 75 per cent of visitors to Qatar are here on business, and it islittle wonder that opinion-leaders are flocking to QNCC.
Its sheer scale is overwhelming.Set over a total area of 200,000 square metres, including 40,000 square metres of exhibition space, QNCC is one of the largest facilities of its kind in the Middle East. But if its size is impressive, its facilities are also first class. Housing a 4,000-person-capacity conference hall, and 52 meeting rooms and theatres that can accommodate 30,000 people, QNCC’s kitchen can provide five-star cuisine for 10,000 guests simultaneously.
A member of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development QF, QNCC was officially opened last December. Its launch attracted interest far beyond the azure shores of Qatar, and the venue has remained firmly in the limelight ever since.
Its inaugural event, the 20th World Petroleum Congress, was attended by a hugely influential international cast of senior industry insiders, rubbing shoulders with globally connected government representatives from all over the world. Dubbed the ‘Olympian Event of the Oil and Gas Industry,’ in QNCC the congress found a setting to match its impressive tagline.
Since then, the centre has hosted well over 100 events, including the World Innovation Summit for Education, the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum, the Arab Expatriate Scientists Symposium, and UNCTAD XIII. Around 130,000 visitors have already passed through its perfectly proportioned interior, keen to share knowledge and, where possible, find common ground.
But despite its impeccable credentials QNCC’s victory at the WTA may have taken some by surprise, given that it is a mere five months old. Yet the centre's success is the product of many years' careful planning.
"We recognised a long time ago that if we were to deliver Her Highness’SheikhaMozabint Nasser Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development QF vision to make Qatar Foundation a global centre of excellence in the spheres of education, science and community development, it was essential that we found a home for the world's leading innovators and industry experts to exchange their ideas,” says Engineer Saad Al Muhannadi, QF Vice President of Capital Projects and Facilities Management. “We began work on the project as far back as 2006, but we were in no hurry. The most important thing was to get it right."
And QF's Board of Directors went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that they got it right - all the way down to the finest detail. The internationally renowned Japanese architect ArataIsuzaki was recruited, his brief to design a complex capable of hosting the world's most prestigious gatherings in aesthetically pleasing, environmentally sustainable surroundings. The QNCC's unique facade perfectly illustrates this bold ambition. Depicting two enormous intertwined sidra trees, it is reminiscent of QF's world-famous logo. Yet, as Vice President Al Muhannadiexplains, its design is not simply figurative.
"Our architects devised complex mathematical equations to decide what would be the best support structure for the ceiling, and the outcome was a construction that somehow resembled a sidra tree. So, you could say that the design was the product of cutting edge science merging with traditional symbolism - a perfect metaphor for Her Highness’stated vision to push the boundaries of knowledge ever forward while preserving our precious past."
QNCC was conceived with a focus on sustainability. The exhibition hall is built according to gold certification standards on Leadership in Energy and Environment Design LEED, endorsed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The building incorporates innovative water conservation features and energy-efficient fixtures.
Later this year QNCC will host the COP18 international climate change conference. With 30,000 delegates from 192 countries and 5,000 journalists in attendance, the three-week long event will be the largest ever hosted in Qatar.
For the organisers, it represents a huge logistical test. But Vice President Al Muhannadi is convinced that QNCC is fully equipped to meet the challenge, and perfectly positioned to showcase the nation's ever-growing commitment to pursuing environmentally sustainable projects, an ethos entirely in keeping with QF's own vision. “In the future, environmental considerations will be central to the planning of any construction project,” he says.“At Qatar Foundation, they are already central.”
In December this year, the WTA Grand Finals will take place in India’s capital, New Delhi. Competition will be intense, but for both Qatar and QNCC, there is every reason to feel optimistic that their first-rate business facilities will be recognised and celebrated on an international stage.