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JustHere | August 23, 2017

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Qatar’s last few cyber cafes. How are they surviving?

Qatar’s last few cyber cafes. How are they surviving?

There’s always a mission or two that you have to embark on while in Qatar. Be it finding parking, or catching a karwa cab back home, or beating the mad traffic rush.

One afternoon, I along with my driver set out on a rather unusual mission: finding cyber cafes around the city.

Googling their locations was of no help. Most of the numbers that spring up are out of service or are incorrect, hinting at their state of existence. So here we were, relying partly on my driver’s memory of the places that he knew had cyber cafes, and partly on inputs from friends. We began circling the neighbourhoods of Najma and Old Al Ghanim, which my driver says had a scattering of such cafes at least 3-4 years back. But sadly these shops were either shuttered down or razed to make place for new businesses. “There were so many, now it’s all shut down. Anyway, who uses them these days? Everyone has internet at home. If there’s no business, what else could they do other than shutting down,” says my driver.

“Everyone has internet at home these days. Why would they come here?”

And he was right. With the internet having penetrated homes, offices and even phones, internet café owners in the city are facing a hard time making money through what was once a luxury.

Boubeker, the supervisor at Al Khawaj Net located in Mattar Al Qadeem says there used to be a huge rush of customers during the shop’s initial years of operation. “At that time not many had internet at homes. The place used to be packed, and we had customers on waiting lists too.”

But today the number of customers has reduced to just about 15 a day. “Everyone has internet at home these days. Why would they come here?” he says.

“Business isn’t great. The rent of this store is QR11,000 a month. Plus we need to pay staff their salary too. It’s hard to get anything out of the internet café. If the business continues to be slow, we might have to close it down.”

The staff at Mayurka Trading & Services in Najma also reports of a similar drop in customers. The company started off as an internet service provider, and back then received nearly 200 customers per day. “These days its only 25-30 in a day,” says Mahmoud, one of the staff.

“We have many old customers, who have been using the café for 5-6 years now. We can’t lose them.”

“We have to pay a monthly bill of QR5,252 to Ooredoo in addition to a monthly rent of QR12,000. It’s hard to pay so much when business is poor.”

For this reason, the shop expanded its business four months ago to include both “trading & services”. Alongside internet services, the shop also sells perfumes, watches, mobiles and other electronic accessories. “At least now were making some money out of trading. Business isn’t very great, but better than before.”

Asked why the company is yet holding on to its failing internet services, Mahmoud says, “We have many old customers, who have been using the café for 5-6 years now. We can’t lose them.”

Those few customers…

Majority of customers who use cyber cafes do so for printing documents off the net. Then there are teenage customers too who frequent these cafes to play online games. But a major bulk of customers constitutes the low-income workers who want to ‘Skype’ their family back home. Booma Netcafe a new facility that opened in Bin Omran complex a month ago has been getting 50-60 customers every day. “Customers usually come in after 6pm, and they are mostly Sri Lankan or Indian workers who enquire about Skype,” according to the staff. But it’s only a month since operation, and they will have to wait for some time to assess how their business is performing.

However, despite dwindling customers and fierce competition from personal technology, some of these café owners are hopeful that their business will survive, if not improve. Askar of Turbo Internet Café in Bin Omran says, “We charge only QR6 for every hour which is a lot cheaper than what you would have to pay for a connection at home or any of the mobile internet packages. Not everyone can afford a connection at home, so you will always find customers.”

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