It was my first time to the region and my time in Doha was all too brief, but I will share a splattering of thoughts:
- The people of Qatar I met were friendly, hospitable, ambitious, and keen on continuing to improve their country. The world cup arrives in 2022. That event creates a natural timeline by which they want to achieve big things before they enjoy the global spotlight.
- The talking point within Qatar that I heard a lot is that the country needs to become a “service economy.” They are also looking to foster entrepreneurship in order to diversify their economic base.
- By day, the Doha skyscrapers juxtaposed next to the desert landscape looks bizarre. And because of the heat, no one is walking on any sidewalk…anywhere. By night, with the buildings lit up, the landscape takes on an alluring, Vegas-like quality. And with the cooler evening breezes, the foot traffic on sidewalks picks up to a normal pace.
- When I sat down to lunch with some local businesspeople from the region, I asked where everyone was from. I should have known better. Apparently, it’s easy to tell someone’s home country by how they wear their hijab (headscarf). As it was explained to me, Saudis wear a red patterned hijab. Omanis wear a hat, no scarf. Qataris fold their hijab a certain way; folks from the UAE fold it a different way. Walk down the street of Doha, and you’ll see all kinds of hijabs.
- Doha’s critics say the city is trying too hard to be like Dubai: too many sky scrappers, too many five star western hotel brands, a national airline in Qatar Airways too hell bent on being more luxurious than Emirates. Doha strives to be better than Dubai on these fronts but isn’t, they say. By forcing an apples-to-apples comparison, Doha gets relegated to second class, instead of a place like Muscat which aspires to be something different. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with this view — I’ve never been to Dubai nor spent serious time in Doha. I’m simply repeating it because I found it interesting in terms of how a city’s identity gets constructed vis-a-vis another city’s.
- When women are covered up except for their face, it makes the face the singular signal of beauty. There’s nothing else to go by. I saw many beautiful faces.
- I flew Emirates, SFO-Dubai and then Dubai-Doha. I loved that the ceiling of the plane turned into a star-filled sky during sleep hours. Also, the window shades opened/closed electronically, and they were all shut automatically during sleep hours. (It’s annoying when someone leaves the window shade open and sun creeps in when you’re trying to sleep.) The weakness of Emirates (in my brief experience) was around staff friendliness. The flight crew just didn’t seem as uniformly professional and friendly as a Cathay Pacific or Japan Airways crew, for example. I wonder if the diversity of the flight crew on Emirates matters in this regard. The four Emirates flights I took were multi-ethnic to an extreme degree; when they announced the languages spoken by the crew, I truly had never heard of a couple of the languages. I love diversity generally, but for within crew maybe the cultural differences translate into inconsistent hospitality styles. The person serving food approaches the relationship with the passenger differently than the person handing out customs forms. On a 16 hour non-stop flight, these little things become a little noticeable.
All in all, big thanks to my hosts in Qatar for the opportunity to meet and share ideas, and I look forward to getting back to the region soon to spend a more significant chunk of time.