Qatar is preparing for a booming tourism season, in the World Cup finals, as the small Gulf state prepares to welcome more than one million football fans, according to “Bloomberg”.
But many of them may not get a place to live before the games.
Limited accommodation, low tolerance for alcohol and celebrations in the conservative Islamic State have led to tens of thousands of supporters seeking accommodation in neighboring countries during the month-long tournament.
Flights from major Middle Eastern cities will transport spectators to the matches on the day they take place, benefiting airlines, hotels and hospitality venues across countries including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Dubai, the most popular tourist hub, is expected to be the biggest beneficiary. Of the more than 90 new flights that will land daily in the host city of Doha, around 40 will depart from the United Arab Emirates.
A new hotel built on an artificial island in the shape of a palm is reserved for guests who intend to stay in Dubai and travel the 40-minute flight to Doha with a simplified procedure.
Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, said Dubai would be the “main gateway” to the World Cup, with more people likely to come through the city than Qatar. “
Qatar has been preparing to host the Cup for 12 years and estimates the influx of 1.2 million visitors will add $17 billion to its economy, amid concerns about the difficulty of accommodation and housing.
The organizers have hired two vessels and will set up more than 1,000 tents in the desert. The regional transport service will connect Doha with other cities including Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait City.
Both Saudi Arabia and Oman hold festivals to attract fans, and plan to simplify travel procedures. The Saudi Tourism Authority says it expects to receive 30,000 visitors as a result of the World Cup, and those registered with Qatar’s Haya card can apply for multiple entry visas to the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Tourism said the tournament would “raise the profile of many regional destinations” and have an economic impact beyond the event.
FIFA and Qatar welcomed the tourism benefits that would flow to the region.
It’s not just the tension of accommodation that drives fans to look elsewhere.
Local dress codes requiring men and women to cover their bodies from shoulders to knees in many public places and strict rules around alcohol consumption do not make Qatar the ideal destination for some.
“Football fans really like to party and I think there’s a lot of hesitation about Qatar as a country,” said Dan Allen, managing director of London-based travel agency DPA.
“Dubai looks like a safer option for fans who want more freedom,” he added.
Allen said that more affordable accommodation, rooms available in reliable locations, and the perception that the UAE will take a more lax approach to alcohol is leading many to choose Dubai over Doha.
And sponsors are still trying to persuade Qatar to allow fans to drink Budweiser beer in stadiums.
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy has promised that alcoholic beverages will be available in some designated “fan areas” outside stadiums and other hospitality venues, with more details to be announced in due course.
Meanwhile, fan zones will be set up across Dubai, including at NH Dubai The Palm, where travel agency Expat Sport is offering packages that include trips to Qatar and an on-site sports bar for watching matches.
The busiest period for Qatar will be the group stage, with four matches a day taking place in stadiums in and around Doha.
Two places are only 10 minutes drive away, while the further one is only 1 hour.
This makes the event tougher than the 21 World Cups that preceded it.
Alan Holt, managing director of Expat Sport, said the organization of the tournament enables fans to watch more than one game a day.
Holt, who slept in a gym in Japan during the 2002 World Cup and shared a one-bedroom apartment with four friends in Moscow in 2018, said the lack of accommodation for such a massive sporting event is nothing new.
And World Cup fans have shown time and time again that they are ready to travel to play matches.
“I expect first-time visitors to leave the area in awe,” Holt said. “For some people this journey is a phase of carrying and carrying luggage, for others it is a four-year journey with friends and for many it is a chance to come to another part of the world.”