Why Fifa World Cup offers a boon to luxury travel in GCC

The month long sports event in Qatar will boost luxury travel in GCC region way beyond the tournament

By Sammy Musa/Viewpoint

Published: Wed 16 Nov 2022, 3:28 PM

From hotels to private jets, the World Cup has shown the power of the ripple-effect on economies around the GCC as travel looks set to gain in the region long beyond the tournament’s end.

From kick-off on November 20, Qatar will see an influx of a massive 1.2 million visitors and while this will add around $17 billion to the country’s economy over the course of the world's biggest football spectacle, the wins will be felt regionally.

Qatar’s size has meant that hotels in the UAE are going to make the country a secondary host nation. While Qatar had just 30,000 hotel rooms as of March this year, Dubai alone has 140,000 and though with the addition of the likes of cruise ships and desert camp sites there will be more like 130,000 rooms for the tournament, there is no doubt that Dubai and the UAE has become by default, a secondary host nation.

Visitors to the World Cup will now see two destinations and as history has proven, Dubai has a massive rate of repeat travel, 25% in 2019 according to Dubai Tourism, meaning many of these guests will be very likely to return. Word of mouth is also a key factor in bringing guests, Dubai Tourism said, meaning each of the 1.2 million football fans will become a new ambassador for tourism in the region for the tourists of the future.

The lifting of the 2017 embargo has allowed the whole GCC to reap the rewards of this incredible mega-event, which as we saw with Dubai Expo 2020, has a legacy in its own right. Those visitors coming for the Expo were naturally curious about the country's capital, meaning a spillover into Abu Dhabi allowed for not only Dubai to benefit from this new influx of visitors to the country.

Aviation will without a doubt be a huge winner, the World Cup showing just how close the two countries are as Dubai and Doha offer 60-80 shuttle flights a day, with private jet hire reported by the likes of VistaJet, reported to be at an absolute peak. Prior to the embargo, business travellers frequently went between the UAE and Qatar in a day, the 45-minute flight meaning business meetings were no more than a long car journey away.

The World Cup will remind people of the economic opportunities connecting the two countries, far beyond the tournament’s final whistle, which can only be a boon to the likes of hotels and restaurants which will host events, meetings and conferences into the future, a legacy to look forward to as we see the ease of travel between the two nations.

It is not only the UAE which will be a beneficiary, though no doubt it will be the biggest, as a secondary host nation. Saudi, Bahrain and Oman have also seen a huge rise in shuttle flights to Qatar and just like the UAE, this will in the long-term, be likely to increase the opportunities for the travel industry.

In the wake of the pandemic, people are hungry for those in-person experiences and meetings, and as Qatar has undergone massive development to facilitate the World Cup, there will be a new excitement to see what the small Gulf nation has to offer and, likewise, with fast-paced changes afoot in both the UAE and Saudi's travel sectors. With 18,000 rooms available in Bahrain, the country closest to Qatar, there is no doubt that hopes for long-term benefits there will come to fruition as nations once unseen, become showcased like never before.

For Qatar, which has launched a plethora of luxury hotels and experiences to complement its cultural offerings for visitors, the World Cup is no doubt good for business. Tourism projections beyond the World Cup look set to grow, not least from around the GCC with luxury Halal travel experiences making it extremely appealing to the local market. More than the host country, it is now a flourishing destination in its own right, only adding to the appeal of the wider region as it shows its modernising face to the world.

We are seeing the same positive outlook from the private jet sector. Our client, private jet firm VistaJet, sees a bright future ahead for the luxury private travel sector. So as the final whistle blows on December 18, there is no doubt that the world will see the GCC like they've never seen it before.

Sammy Musa is the chief executive of Gulf Reps. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.

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