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Flight bookings soar as Gulf benefits from Qatar 2022 fever

NH Dubai The Palm: The UAE’s football-themed hotel is ready for World Cup 2022
  • Dubai tournament beneficiary as it has more hotels than Qatar
  • Flight bookings to GCC countries during competition 16% ahead
  • David Beckham and Qatar Tourism ad campaign has launched

Flight bookings to Qatar from the UAE and 31 countries competing in the FIFA World Cup are currently 10 times the volume of pre-pandemic levels, according to new data.

The latest analysis by UK-based ForwardKeys shows that the UAE will perform most strongly during the Qatar 2022 World Cup period in November and December, where many fans are basing themselves during the tournament.

Currently, bookings are ahead by 103 times the volume of 2016. The data is based on issued flight tickets, including day trips, as of September 29, for travel to Qatar between November 14 and December 24. 

ForwardKeys said the UAE’s strong showing is explained by a shortage of accommodation in Qatar. Many people are expected to stay in the UAE during the World Cup and fly over for the day on match days. Currently, day trips account for four percent of all arrivals to Qatar, 85 percent of which originate in the UAE.

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said: “As global events go, the FIFA World Cup is one of the most attractive drivers of travel there is, so much so, that other destinations in the Gulf will benefit, not just the host nation, Qatar.

“In tourism promotion terms, the World Cup will throw a media spotlight on Qatar and help it become a more established destination, and not just a major hub for intercontinental air traffic.”

He added that just three percent of travel to Doha is normally destined to stay in the country, with 97 percent made up of onward connections but during the World Cup almost 27 percent of bookings has Qatar as the ultimate destination. 

Qatar’s Katara Towers is booked for VIP guests of world football’s governing body FIFA

“The UAE will also benefit substantially from the tournament because it has much more hotel accommodation than Qatar, and two global hub airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” noted Ponti.

Other source markets showing big increases are Mexico, ahead by 79 times the 2019 volume, Argentina, ahead by 77 times, Spain, ahead by 53 times, and Japan, ahead by 46 times.

The benchmark is for travel in 2019, except for the UAE, where the benchmark is 2016, owing to the Qatar diplomatic crisis, which stopped direct flights between Qatar and the UAE between 2017 and 2021.

Despite the requirement to present a negative coronavirus test to enter Qatar, the popularity of the tournament is such that there have been millions of searches online for flights to Qatar in the first nine months of the year. 

According to the data, 12 percent of flight bookings are for journeys originating in the UAE, 12 percent from the US, seven percent from Spain, seven percent from India, six percent from the UK and six percent from Germany.

The tournament will also benefit the whole Gulf region, as flight bookings to GCC countries during the competition are currently 16 percent ahead, and, for the initial stages, 61 percent ahead of the benchmark. 

Further analysis reveals that many World Cup visitors are also travelling to other destinations in the region. For example, the number staying at least two nights in Qatar and going on to stay at least two more nights in another GCC country is 16 times greater than it was before the pandemic in 2019. 

Dubai is the biggest beneficiary of this trend by far, capturing 65 percent of onward visits, followed by Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, Muscat and Madinah. 

The most important origin market for these “regional tourists” is the US, which is responsible for 26 percent of the total, followed by Canada, the UK and France, Mexico and Spain. 

The start date of the World Cup was recently brought forward one day to November 20, with Qatar and Ecuador featuring in the opening match.

Sunglasses, Accessories, Accessory
David Beckham is advertising holidays in Qatar as tourism chiefs seek to attract more than six million visitors a year by 2030

Qatar Tourism has launched a marketing campaign starring David Beckham as it counts down to the start of the tournament.

The former England captain – who is reportedly being paid $174 million over 10 years to promote Qatar – is advertising holidays in the country as tourism chiefs seek to attract more than six million visitors a year by 2030. 

However, even as hotel occupancy rates in Doha surge ahead of the tournament, some analysts are warning that the World Cup boost to Qatar’s economy could fall short of official expectations of $17 billion.

Doha is also pushing on with plans to deliver new hotel supply, with close to 1,256 keys being added in the second quarter of 2022. By the end of this year, the city is expected to have 30,500 keys.

Numerous hotels are set to open in the coming months along with hospitality offerings including the Qetaifan Island North, West Bay North Beach and Lusail Winter Wonderland. Amid concerns about a potential accommodation crunch, World Cup organisers have leased two cruise ships and will pitch more than 1,000 tents in the desert.

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