DUBAI: Even before the kick-off of the first ever Middle East football World Cup in Qatar on November 20, the entire Gulf region is counting on a massive boost from air transport, tourism and hospitality .
An influx of 1.2 million visitors is expected to add $17 billion to the Qatari economy during the long-awaited month-long tournament, when visitors crowd into hotels across the country for the world’s biggest sporting spectacle .
However, there is a catch. Due to Qatar’s small size, the number of accommodations on offer is limited – just 30,000 hotel rooms in March this year – forcing fans to look elsewhere in the region. And the shortage is driving up hotel rates.
“Overall, hotel rates are already three to four times higher, so you can already feel the impact of the World Cup immediately,” Qatari businessman Tariq Al-Jaidah told Arab News.
Al-Jaidah’s family business, Jaidah Holdings, owns the W Doha Hotel & Residences, the first W-branded hotel in the Middle East and North Africa. The group also owns and manages major luxury hotels across Europe, including The Gritti Palace in Venice, The Westin Excelsior and The St. Regis in Florence.
Al-Jaidah’s brother, Ibrahim M. Jaidah, Group CEO and Chief Architect of the Arab Engineering Bureau and Ibrahim Jaidah Architects and Engineers, designed the Al-Thumama Stadium which will seat 40,000 spectators for the matches through to the quarter-finals.
“There are so many milestones associated with it – like the first World Cup in the Middle East – and for many people it’s a way of life to come and watch the games,” Al-Jaidah said.
“For many on this planet it is a way of life and this time it takes them to an area that many have never visited before. You can feel that the region – the Gulf countries – come together in a natural way for the event.
To accommodate the legions of football fans heading to Qatar, organizers have already hired two cruise ships and plan to pitch more than 1,000 tents in the desert. A shuttle service has also been set up to connect Doha to other regional cities, including Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait City.
The launch of daytime flights that will ferry spectators to and from matches is expected to create plenty of business for local airlines, hotels and hospitality venues, especially in neighboring countries of Oman, Saudi Arabia and of the United Arab Emirates.
“Saudia announces special flights, as does Oman, which is ready to receive maximum capacity of guests,” Al-Jaidah said.
“The sky is open to all airlines – between the two cities of Doha and Dubai alone you will have 60 to 80 flights a day – forming a real air bridge, so that people can move easily. All this creates a phenomenal momentum between the Gulf countries.
Dubai will be “the main gateway” to the World Cup, with more people likely to enter Qatar through the emirate than its own capital Doha, Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, told Bloomberg News recently. .
“Hotel capacity in Qatar is quite limited and we have so much to offer here,” Griffiths added.
Indeed, the UAE hospitality sector has seen hotel rooms snapped up months in advance. In July, hotel rates in the country increased by 20%, with many industry experts expecting 100% occupancy during the tournament.
Travel agencies are also benefiting from the increase in demand. UAE-based Expat Sport announces a “Football Fans Dubai Experience” package that provides transport to and from the airport.
“Internationally, we have seen the highest demand for our football fan experience in Dubai in the UK, South America, Mexico, India and China,” said Sue Holt, Executive Director of Expat Sport, at Arab News.
“We have also received a large number of requests from Saudi Arabia from people wishing to come and spend time in Dubai during the early stages of the tournament and then fly on the daily shuttle flights for specific matches. Opening weekend was our most popular package, with all available rooms nearly sold out.
Sports tourism is particularly lucrative, says Holt, because “it’s usually groups rather than just one person traveling.”
Fan zones will be established around Dubai, including at the 533-room NH Dubai The Palm, a gigantic new luxury hotel on the city’s palm-shaped island. The football-themed hotel will accommodate guests wishing to catch the 40-minute flight to Doha.
“Holding such a significant event in the region will undoubtedly generate more football and revenue for the UAE, primarily in Dubai,” Naim Maddad, Managing Director and Founder of Gates Hospitality in Dubai, told Arab News.
“With multiple entry visas now available for those with World Cup tickets, this will likely generate a lot of additional revenue for city hotels that are conveniently located (and close enough to the airport), but we expect also that the same goes for our food and beverage outlets across the city.”
It’s not just the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates that expects an influx of visitors and a boon for local businesses. Oman’s capital, Muscat, and the Saudi cities of Jeddah and Riyadh are also braced for increased attendance.
The two Gulf countries are holding festivals to coincide with the tournament and have outlined plans to streamline travel procedures. For example, Oman Air, the national airline, offers special fares for football fans traveling to Qatar. Meanwhile, those registered for Qatar’s Hayya Fan Card can also apply for multiple-entry visas for Saudi Arabia.
The Hayya card is an identity card issued by the government of Qatar for those attending the World Cup. The document replaces the usual entry visa, but is only valid for the duration of the tournament.
Tour operators in Saudi Arabia, such as Travel-it, also offer special itineraries for football fans wanting to explore the wider region during the tournament.
“Travel-It aims to boost Saudi tourism by offering fans attending the World Cup in Qatar this winter the opportunity to enjoy the company’s itineraries,” a company spokesperson told Arab News. .
Travel-It, which is an online travel and tourism platform, offers air and road shuttle service between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as trips to Al-Ahsa Oasis in the Eastern Province. of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
“This will allow them to explore nearby tourist sites in Saudi Arabia and immerse themselves in the rich local culture,” the spokesperson said. “Additionally, Qatar’s proximity to Saudi Arabia means fans will be able to expand their travels to incorporate destinations in both countries.”
The World Cup offers a unique opportunity for the entire region to establish itself as a must-see destination in its own right.
“Above all, the tournament will raise awareness in the Middle East and the Gulf region,” Al-Jaidah said. “A very large number of tourists have never been to this region. It may not have been on their radar, but this event will bring them together.
“The World Cup will increase the attractiveness of the region and show the world how we are capable, after Expo 2020 in Dubai and the World Cup in Doha, that the sky is the limit here. We are ready for what comes next. . »