Tucked just below the surface of the ongoing Saudi- and Emirati-led blockade of Qatar lies a seemingly banal rationale for the dramatic standoff: the future of tourism in the Gulf. When vacationers think of sun, luxury or both, which futuristic city will they think of: Doha or Dubai?
As part of their post-oil economic strategies, Gulf states have doubled down on tourism, none more so than the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The skylines of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha all glitter with ever newer, ever more luxurious high-rise hotels, as Emirati and Qatari development plans pin their hopes on global tourism.
In the race for establishing a globally recognized national brand, a slip-up by any of the rivals could cost them dearly. Their national corporate logos are already familiar to sports fans worldwide. Dubai’s Emirates Airlines adorns the jerseys of some of Europe’s highest-profile soccer teams, such as Real Madrid, Arsenal and AC Milan, among others; Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways has Manchester City. Qatar, through its Qatar Foundation, has FC Barcelona. Fans who can’t find Qatar or the UAE on a map nevertheless can’t avoid knowing the brand.