Monday, August 4, 2014

The private jets of luxury airline Amiri in Qatar are top secret

IT’S the airline you can’t fly on. Unless you’re royalty, or a government official in Qatar, that is.Sarah Steegar, a flight attendant with a major US carrier for the past 15 years, sheds some light on what could be the world’s most mysterious carrier.

The first I’d heard about this airline was an encounter my friend Adam claims he had with them.
He said he was checking into a Mandarin Oriental hotel when an airline crew caught his eye. It was a large, commercial-sized crew that were decked out in Cartier watches and other eye-catching gear. The captain — standing beside him at the desk — presented a black AmEx card to the staff which allegedly had “pre-approved for $100,000 in charges”.

My friend thought I might know something about this mysterious operation. I didn’t, and I was as intrigued as he was.

Adam claimed he’d managed to grab a brief word with one of the flight attendants. She said their airline was called Amiri — a “VVIP airline” from Qatar that didn’t carry commercial passengers. Unsurprisingly, details beyond that are not too easy to come by. Here’s what we know.

The airline’s full name is Qatar Amiri Flight (QAF), an airline for both the royal family and high ranked government staff of Qatar. Its fleet is reportedly 11-13 strong and all mostly Airbus planes, except for a few 747s. It staffs about 100 cabin crew and only hires Captains (First Officers need not apply).

Part of Qatar Airways, it has been going through a restructuring over the last five or six years, fully separating it into a separate entity with its own CEO (rather than Qatar’s Akbar Al Baker). Still, most of Amiri’s fleet is painted with Qatar Airways’ livery.

The cabin staff are thought to be exclusively recruited from Qatar Airways, maybe because few outside applicants will have even heard of the airline. The application is seemingly open to the public, though interviewees are informed that, if accepted, they must first work Qatar Airways main line First Class for three to six months (sources vary), so this may also contribute to the idea that working for QAF is exclusively a Qatar Airways promotion.
The pay is advertised as “very appropriate”. The top listed “skill” requirement on the application is “a deferential personality”.

Obviously, there are other VVIP airlines (e.g. Saudi Ogar, Kalair, Ajwaa, Midroc, Al Khayala and Royal Jet — which is 50 per cent owned by Amiri), but for some reason Amiri seems to stand out.
I can’t help but be intrigued. It’s like hearing about a new country.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

UNWTO supports Qatar’s new Tourism Strategy

UNWTO is supporting Qatar to implement its new tourism strategy through collaboration in the areas of legislation, institutional strengthening, statistics, marketing and capacity building. During an official visit to the country, where he met H.E. Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar and attended the launch of Qatar’s Tourism Strategy, UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai welcomed the high priority afforded to the tourism sector in Qatar (22-25 February 2014).

“I would like to commend the government of Qatar for placing the tourism sector as a strategic pillar within its National Vision 2030. This is a clear recognition of the role tourism can play in boosting the image of Qatar, diversifying its economic base and driving sustainable development in the country”, said Mr. Rifai.

During an audience with H.E. Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar, UNWTO Secretary-General presented him with the UNWTO/WTTC Open Letter on Travel and Tourism. The Open Letter reaffirms the commitment of a country to tourism as vital sector in the economy and the society.

Looking into the future, the Secretary-General said “According to UNWTO long term forecast, the Middle East is expected to triple its current volume of international tourism by 2030 when it will welcome 149 million international tourists a year. With an investment portfolio of US$ 17 billion over the next five years, including 130 new hotels, resorts and other leisure facilities, a new international airport, a new port with cruise passenger terminal, some 12 sports stadiums and various cultural iconic centres, Qatar is set to become a leading tourism destination and take full advantage of such growth.”

UNWTO has been collaborating with the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) in the implementation of Qatar’s Tourism Strategy. Meeting with H.E. Issa Al Muhannadi, Chairman of QTA, Mr. Rifai discussed how to advance the collaboration between UNWTO and QTA in areas ranging from institution building, such as the legislative and organizational framework and the regulation of tourism activities, to the development of Qatar’s national system of tourism statistics.

Qatar’s tourism has grown significantly over recent years with the total number of international tourists visiting the country rising from less than half a million in 2000 to over one million today.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Moving World Cup from Qatar counter-productive - Zwanziger

The 2022 World Cup should stay in Qatar to keep the pressure on the Gulf nation to improve its labor rights record, a FIFA executive committee member said on Thursday.

"People have been asking when FIFA would be taking the World Cup away from Qatar but I think that would be counter-productive," Theo Zwanziger told a European parliament sub-committee on human rights.

"It would mean the current situation, the human rights violations would go on. It would simply mean that the spotlight would be put away from them."

Qatar has been under fire for its treatment of migrant workers in the construction industry after Britain's Guardian newspaper reported in September that dozens of Nepali laborers had died.

"What is now important is to use the pressure that you get from this global event, which interests billions of people, as an opportunity to ask Qatar to show it's an open and tolerant country," German Zwanziger added.

"They need to show this as quickly as possible."

Amnesty International and the International Trade Union Confederation have also criticized the treatment of migrant laborers in Qatar, fearing the problem could worsen with the extra construction work needed for the tournament.

On Tuesday, Qatari World Cup organizers produced a 50-page document outlining stricter measures that would apply to contractors involved in building work for the tournament.


Barbara Lochbilder, the head of the European Parliament committee, said Qatar had moved in the right direction although it had not shown any sign of reforming the kafala, a system where laborers are usually "sponsored" by their employer.

"There have been a number of improvements with regard to the working situation," she said. "On the downside, the government has not shown any sign it wants to reform the kafala system nor shown it wants to come up with a new system that would be specific to migrants."

The world players' union FIFPro said the respect of human rights should be a basic condition for any World Cup host nation in the future.

"The prestige and political significance of the highest level of sporting events - the World Cup or the Olympics - are great enough to motivate change if it is a non-negotiable precondition," said FIFPro's Jonas Baer-Hoffmann.

"While our mandate is to represent professional football players and safeguard their rights, we support our fellow union colleagues fighting for the same cause to ensure all workers can enjoy those very same rights and freedoms, regardless of their occupation."

The committee also heard from Zahir Belounis, a former French footballer who was prevented from leaving Qatar for 17 months after he fell into a dispute with a local club.

"This kafala system is not for our time," he said. "All I wanted to do was to go home to France. I went through two years of torture (hell) and decided to stop playing because I no longer had the strength."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel and QSA sign contract

The officials of Qatar Swimming Association (QSA) and Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel have signed a contract to for cooperation. The both teams of officials pose for a picture after a contract signing ceremony at Qatar Olympic Committee’s headquarters in Doha yesterday. Qatar will host the 3rd FINA World Aquatics Convention from November 29 to December 1.

The FINA World Aquatics Convention is a high profile event that will bring together sport leaders, top swimmers, international media, sport service providers related to the Aquatics sports, in a three-day event, prior to the start of the FINA World Swimming Championships.

Doha will also host the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) from December 3 to 7. The Organising Committee members of 12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) were also present at the signing ceremony.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tour of Qatar 2014 preview

February has become Middle-East month for the peloton, who from Sunday 9 to Friday 14 will take part in the Tour of Qatar.

Now into its 13th edition, it is the most firmly established of the Middle-Eastern races, although more have popped up in recent years: the Tour of Oman that follows it began in 2012, and the Dubai Tour was introduced this year to precede it.

The organisers have altered the formula for the 2014 edition slightly. The five flat stages are interrupted by a 10.9-kilometre individual time trial on the third day of racing, rather than previous years’ team time trial. Spice is added to the proceedings thanks to the vicious winds that are liable make the race difficult to control and potentially create time gaps.

If February is the month of Middle-Eastern races, then March is when the spring classics season begins, and many classics specialists will be seeking to build their form in Qatar. Included are Fabian Cancellara and four time winner Tom Boonen, who missed last year’s race with an injury. Boonen’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mate Mark Cavendish took the honours in his absence, but Cavendish is not included this year.
Team Sky are not sending their A-team, which gives the likes of Ian Stannard a chance to relinquish domestique duty and ride for their own personal glory. With the first monument of the season, Milan-San-Remo, six weeks away, now is the time to start catching the eye.

There are four British riders on the provisional start list: Luke Rowe (Sky), Ian Stannard (Sky), Andy Fenn (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Scott Thwaites (NetApp-Endura).
Ones to watch

Tom Boonen
Easily the rider with most past success at the Tour of Qatar, having won 20 stages, six points classification jerseys, and the overall four times. Though the time trial doesn’t seems to suit his skill set, he won an 11.3k effort en route to overall victory in 2012.

Fabian Cancellara
What could be a season of titanic duals between the Swiss former world time trial champion and Boonen could begin on the roads of Qatar. If he has any form, he should win both the time trial and the overall.

Andre Greipel
Fresh from his two stage wins in the season’s first big meet at the Tour down Under, the German has four more flat stages to potentially exert his dominance in. He’s the best sprinter in the field, and should win a handful.

Ian Stannard
The Brit’s huge frame and big engine make him the perfect rider to combat the windy and flat conditions in Qatar. Last year was the 26-year-old’s best to date; can he improve again in 2014?

Tour of Qatar 2014: Stages
Sunday February 9, Stage one, Al Wakra to Dukhan Beach, 135.5km
Monday February 10, Stage two, Camel Race Track to Al Khor Corniche, 160.5km
Tuesday February 11, Stage three, Lusail Circuit to Lusail Circuit, 10.9km ITT
Wednesday February 12, Stage four, Dukhan to Mesaieed, 135km
Thursday February 13, Stage five, Al Zubara Fort to Madinat Al Shamal, 159km
Friday February 14, Stage six, Sealine Beach Resort to Doha Corniche, 113.5km
Tour of Qatar 2014: Teams

Ag2r La Mondiale
Bardiani CSF
BMC Racing
IAM Cycling
Omega Pharma-QuickStep
Skydive Dubai
Trek Factory Racing

Monday, February 3, 2014

Qatar to fly through Cyprus

Qatar has shown interest in furthering its cooperation with Cyprus in the aviation sector and make the island a hub for other European destinations.

According to Phileleftheros sources, Qatar has requested fifth freedom privileges in a communication between its head of its Civil Aviation Authority Chairman Abdulaziz Mohammed Al Noaimi and Under Secretary to the President Constantinos Petrides during President Nicos Anastasiades’ recent official visit to Qatar.

The fifth freedom allows an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries as a part of services connecting the airline’s own country. It is the right to carry passengers from one’s own country to a second country, and from that country to a third country and beyond.

The same sources said that as well as the request for fifth freedom privileges, which are reported to be viewed in a positive light by the Cyprus government, Qatar indicated it would also be interested in other aviation-related cooperation. Qatar Airways is due to begin flights to and from Cyprus on April 29 using an Airbus A320. There will be four flights a week linking Larnaca and Doha.

In a recent announcement, Qatar Airways said that Larnaca was considered to be a special destination it was happy to be including in its flight programme.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Qatar GCC's most expensive country for living

Qatar’s tight rental market has made it the most expensive country to live in the GCC, according to a comprehensive analysis on the cost of living in the region.

Details contained in publications by Cost of Living Reports Middle East (CLR), to be covered in a series of articles by Arabian Business this week, has revealed the true cost of life in the GCC across sectors such as accommodation, food, healthcare, education, transport and lifestyle.

In an overall snapshot, the CLR’s GCC report has found that in a like-for-like comparison of seven measures, Qatar came out the most expensive overall, followed by the UAE, Saudi, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.

Heavily influencing the result, the figures show the average cost in Q4 last year to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Qatar was $42,930 a year, which was $15,540 more than the next highest average of $27,390 per year in the UAE, and 15 times more expensive than Bahrain ($2,849 per year).

In its analysis, Dubai-based CLR said luxury developments such as The Pearl as well as limited supply and high demand had driven up rental prices in Qatar, while the Bahraini real estate market had been hit by political turmoil in the country and an exodus of expatriates in 2011-12.

Qatar also emerged as the most expensive GCC nation for renting a car with a monthly fee of $2,773 to rent a small SUV – almost double the $1,390.50 cost for the same car in the UAE – while an annual gym membership in Qatar was $2,686.5 compared to $81 a year in Saudi and a meager $48 in Oman.
The CLR report found a mid-level GP consultation was most expensive in the UAE ($78.50), followed by Qatar ($54), Saudi and Bahrain ($27), Kuwait ($26.50) and Oman ($13).

The price of a single person health insurance policy, though generally covered by employers, was most expensive in Bahrain ($2,312 per year) and cheapest in Kuwait ($266 per year).

However, CLR noted the UAE had the biggest range of healthcare in terms of international hospitals and clinics, while the more than seven big, local drug manufacturing plants in Saudi, where insurance was $1,350/yr, brought down pharmaceutical costs somewhat.

The report also compared the cost of 21 typical food items across the GCC, including bread, bottled water and a McDonald’s Big Mac, with Bahrain emerging most expensive at $88.80, closely followed by Kuwait ($83.68), Oman ($74.28), Saudi ($61.85), UAE ($61.32) and Qatar ($56.19).
In Qatar, CLR noted, meat was subsidised while Bahrain had the smallest population in the GCC at 1.3m people with “little buying power leverage”.

The report found the cost of power, water and sewerage for an average three-bedroom apartment was highest in the UAE at $268.5 per bill, with Oman the second-highest at $160, followed by Bahrain ($135.50), Qatar ($135) and Kuwait ($83). Saudi was the cheapest country for utilities at a comparatively low $55.

Education expenses were fairly even across the GCC, according to the report, with average annual tuition fees at an international school ranging between $7,579 a year in Bahrain to $12,981 in Oman.

CLR, which said it served more than 70 Fortune 500 clients and provided data on socioeconomic, political and legislative reforms, said the highest GDP was in Qatar at more than $100,000 per capita followed by Abu Dhabi at $90,000 per capita. In Qatar, 94 percent of its population was expatriates, with the figure almost as high in the UAE at 80 percent.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Could the 2022 Qatar World Cup force a European super league

Miles Jacobson, studio director at Sports Interactive, the team behind the hugely successful Football Manager series, will be putting the world to rights in a regular column

Once again last week we saw different people at FIFA contradict each other over the timing of the Qatar World Cup.

The official line is that there is a consultation going on with no decision until after the Brazil World Cup, which was re-stated a few hours after Jerome Valke, secretary general of FIFA, had said on French radio that it will not be in June or July, and that the weather was at its most favourable for the tournament between November 15 and the end of December.

Of course, many think that the consultation period doesn’t matter and that the decision has already been made.

They’re not known as a particularly transparent organisation, though are making moves to improve that image. But when you’ve got senior members of the organisation saying the World Cup is moving, it’s a fair bet it will do.

But what is it FIFA are scared of? They “run” football, so can do what they want, surely – whether the fans, leagues and clubs agree or not?

It’s something I spend far too much time thinking about.

My conclusion is that they’re trying to show that they’re prepared to listen and consult because they’re scared that they might lose the goose that lays the golden egg - and not just the World Cup, but running of football itself.

And that could spell the end of international football entirely.

And not just the World Cup, but any international football. Or rather, international football that includes the top level players.

International games are the lifeblood of rugby and cricket and to some football fans still is for the beautiful game too. But the reality is that whereas clubs used to be very proud of players playing for their countries and the reputation boost it gave to the clubs, it matters a lot less to the clubs and many of their supporters now.

There are a bunch of different reasons for this – the obvious one from an English perspective is that so many of the world most successful clubs are now owned (or funded) and managed by people who aren’t from the same country as the club itself.

Do Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho really care about how England do at the next World Cup, or more about how Chelsea do in the Champions League? Do the Glazers care about England or when Robin van Persie will be back from injury?

When the Premier League started, it was the FA Premier League. Over a short few years, the FA part was dropped. It became clear that the Premier League was owned by its members - the clubs.

There are parts of the game that the FA is still in control of that are necessary for the PL member clubs, but essentially it’s a tournament out on its own, and a winter World Cup could cause problems for those clubs financially.

A reschedule of the fixtures for the season - essentially a two month winter break with an elongated end of season - obviously makes the club season longer.

Sponsorships would end later, and start later, so good value for money for those already in place, but the loss of some income from clubs whose coffers would be going up from season to season. A shorter pre-season too, so less income from foreign touring, and less time for players to get prepared, especially new signings.

TV companies, who provide most of the money that clubs make at the top level, could use it as a negotiating tactic for lower deals.

Back in September, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who chairs the European Club Association (which speaks for over 200 clubs and leagues in Europe) said: “It is probably better to play it in winter” which many took to believe that the clubs were supportive of it, but of all the people in the game on a club level that I've spoken to, not many want to move it – or want their players playing in a tournament with that kind of heat level, air conditioning or not.

At the Leaders in Football conference in October, Galatasaray chairman Unal Aysal gave an even bigger hint at what could happen if clubs are unhappy with the decision - or other decisions that FIFA and UEFA make, when he declared the need for a 20 team European Super League either with or without the support of UEFA.

The current agreement between UEFA and the European Club Association runs out in 2018, and Aysal said: “The system has to be put in place, either by UEFA or the clubs themselves. Then we will decide if a breakaway will be necessary or not.”

And if there is a European or World Super League before the Qatar World Cup, and outside of the realms of UEFA and FIFA, what then for international football?

Would it continue to be run by FIFA, with footballers not playing in FIFA sanctioned tournaments being allowed to take part? Or would international football continue, just without the top players?

It seems to me that the business people who own and run Europe’s biggest clubs - away from the dream situation of fan owned clubs in Germany- are becoming more and more frustrated with having to dance with FIFA’s tune. And UEFA’s. And their local FA’s.

If, as seems likely, FIFA has already decided to go ahead and impose a winter World Cup in 2022, they might just be in danger of giving those people a gift wrapped excuse to wrestle control away from the governing body – and it’s hard to see how that would be a good thing for international football.

Miles is Studio Director at Sports Interactive and is the director of Football Manager. He can be found on Twitter @milessi. The fee for his column will be donated to War Child.

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Qatar World Cup Debate heats up BUT INSURERS KEEP THEIR COOL

The 2022 World Cup's decision in Qatar has provoked a heated debate about when the competition should be played. But Lloyd’s underwriters are confident that they will be able to come up with an insurance solution whatever the outcome.

Heated debate

The World Cup is the world’s most viewed single sporting competition, and many were surprised with the decision to hold the 2022 tournament in Qatar, a country where temperatures can easily top 40 degrees Celsius in the summer when the event is traditionally held.

Critics argue that it is too hot to hold the event in the summer, but moving it to the winter months would disrupt the European domestic football season and clash with major US sports that would compete for television viewers. Football’s governing body FIFA says the event will definitely be held in the Arab state, being either played in June and July with a system of air conditioning in the stadium or rescheduled to the cooler winter months.

The on-going debate over when the World Cup will be staged is being closely watched by Lloyd’s underwriters, who have insured past World Cup risks ranging from cancelation through to the players on the pitch.

In perspective

For all the public debate about the climatic conditions, the perceived risks of holding a World Cup in Qatar are really no higher than many other major events that have been successfully staged in the past, explains Richard Tolley, Senior Vice President in Marsh’s Global Sports & Events Practice.

For example, many events have been held in regions with significant natural catastrophe risk – the Olympics are due to be hosted in an earthquake prone Tokyo in 2020 while next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, could be exposed to high winds and the risk of avalanche.

“Whatever the sport and wherever an event is held, there will always be some degree of risk,” explains Tolley. “Many of the risks can be mitigated and insured against and the London market should be able to respond to most of the kinds of challenges presented by the World Cup in Qatar. Whether the event is held in the summer or the winter, the insurance world can be expected to find the covers required,” he says.

Emerging sports markets

As large events like the World Cup look to locations in emerging markets, it poses different challenges for underwriters, including natural perils, political risks and infrastructure.

“Whether it’s the Winter Olympics in Russia, the Olympic Games in Brazil or the World Cup in Qatar, they all present different challenges to insurers,” says Chris Rackliffe, underwriter at Beazley.

Natural catastrophes and severe weather events are typically the big risks for large events; however, Qatar is not associated with large natural catastrophe exposures. But there is the potential for extreme summer temperatures.

“The heat is something that underwriters will look at closely. If the World Cup is played in June or July, matches would need to be played in air-conditioned stadiums, so we would have to consider the implications for power failures and infrastructure when underwriting the risk,” says Rackliffe.

Regional risks

The risk of terrorism and civil unrest are also important risks for large events, few more-so than the 2022 World Cup. Qatar is currently relatively stable compared with other countries in the region affected by the Arab Spring. The gas-rich Persian Gulf state has not seen unrest, however it has played a role in regional politics, supporting uprisings in Libya, Egypt and Syria.

Another risk that underwriters would consider for Qatar would be the implications of a period of national mourning. The country is ruled over by the Al Thani family, although the reigning Emir of Qatar was just 33 years old when he succeeded his father who abdicated in June 2013 at the age of 61.

All these risks are insurable and within the scope and expertise of insurers in London, explains Rackliffe. “Most major events are covered in the Lloyd’s market where there is a real skill at assessing and pricing complex risk, like political exposures and natural perils,” he says.

Under scrutiny

The heat factor is a concern for insurers as it could add to the risk for both players and spectators, according to David Bruce, a sports underwriter at Pembroke Underwriting. Insurers will be keen to see what steps would be taken to mitigate the risks, he said.

When previous World Cup’s were played in Brazil, games were scheduled for cooler evenings and players were given time to acclimatise, according to Bruce, who underwrites personal accident insurance for footballers and other sports players.

Clubs typically buy personal accident insurance to cover costs should a player become temporarily injured, permanently disabled or die in an accident, explains Bruce. Players also can buy personal accident to cover their loss of income if they were to suffer a career ending injury.

But should players be injured whist on international duty, clubs would expect to be compensated or reimbursed for the cost of paying wages. As a result most national football associations buy personal accident insurance to cover this liability, often at Lloyd’s, according to Bruce.