Yet when it comes to real estate, Mahmood says Qatar is not Dubai. “There was a lot of speculation in Dubai. Residential investment is not that. There is no buying and flipping properties which was the case in Dubai – it is for personal use. That was the bubble in Dubai. But here, it’s much more of a market for foreign investors. There is some overreach in the West Bay area in commercial real estate in office space. But because of the 2022 World Cup, it will be absorbed.”
Apart from real estate, Qatar won most investing hearts at the conference with sports. From a poor British protectorate known mainly for pearling, the country is now providing oil and gas to the world and has won the bid to host FIFA’s 2022 World Cup.
Hasan Al-Thawadi, Chief Executive for the Qatar 2022 bid, told the story of Qatar’s victory: “We knew what Qatar stood for, and what it is capable of doing. In the spirit of Qatar– aiming high, and always achieving – we went ahead with the bid for the world cup.”
The win surprised many, given that 100 degrees Fahrenheit and above is the average temperature for five months out of the year. Summers in Doha could dissuade even the most die-hard soccer fan.
Yet Al-Thawadi sees the weather as a hurdle that technology and infrastructure can solve. He added, “As much as weather is a challenge, it is also a great incentive to [set up] cooling systems for stadiums, training sites and fan zones. [Some] are used by our stadium right now very successfully. The World Cup is not a simple event. It touches people, who can see the economic, social, and cultural benefits.”
Indeed, the World Cup 2022 is much more than a game to investors, Middle Eastern and otherwise. The event is a major catalyst igniting the investment initiatives being undertaken.
While the conference was strictly business, for Al-Thawadi and many Qatari, the World Cup is personal. “It’s an opportunity for East and West to meet, and for misconceptions about the Middle East to be dispelled.”