Fifa World Cup 2022: Saudi expecting to host tens of thousands of fans

'We are ready and excited when it comes to transportation, mobility, airlines, airports, borders, healthcare and telecommunications', says tourism minister



Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

By AFP

Published: Wed 26 Oct 2022, 6:15 PM

Saudi Arabia is putting on 240 flights a week and easing overland travel to attract tens of thousands of football fans attending the World Cup in neighbouring Qatar, the kingdom's tourism minister told AFP on Wednesday.

The efforts are intended to facilitate the burgeoning tourism sector in the kingdom, which began issuing tourist visas in September 2019 – just months before the coronavirus pandemic decimated the industry globally.

The kingdom is expected to soak up an overflow of fans from neighbouring Qatar organising more than 160 daily shuttle flights to and from each other and relaxing visa requirements. Saudi Arabia has also offered multi-entry 60-day visas to holders of the World Cup's Hayya pass, the compulsory permit available to ticket-holders.

Weekly flights from Saudi to Qatar will soar to 240 during the month-long tournament, up from six normally, tourism minister Ahmed Al Khateeb said on the sidelines of an investor forum in Riyadh.

For overland travellers, officials have upgraded roads from Riyadh and cities in eastern Saudi Arabia – which are closer to Qatar – to the border, Khateeb said. They have also expanded petrol stations, internet connectivity and access to first aid and other medical services along the route.

A newly launched 10-lane border crossing "doesn't take you more than 10 minutes" to pass through, he added.

Facilitating cross-border travel could give ticket-holders a Saudi alternative to lodging in Doha, where more than one million fans are expected.

"I think we are ready when it comes to transportation, mobility, airlines, airports, borders, healthcare, telecommunications. We're ready and excited," Khateeb said. "We can't wait for the World Cup to start and we can't wait to welcome our guests from all over the world."

He added: "We are working with the (destination management companies) and the tour companies in Europe and Latin America and Asia, and we are expecting tens of thousands of packages to be sold."

Another high-profile feature of the tourism boost are the giga-projects spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including the $500 billion futuristic megacity known as Neom, a budding arts hub amongst ancient Nabatean tombs in Al-Ula, and the Red Sea Project, a Maldives-style resort destination.

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