Fifa World Cup: How three passenger cruise ships are filling Qatar's accommodation crunch

The party shifts offshore for die-hard football fans


Joydeep Sengupta

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Published: Thu 24 Nov 2022, 9:08 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Nov 2022, 9:42 PM

In 2014, cruise ships were discussed ahead of the Fifa World Cup as a possible solution to a shortage of hotel rooms in Rio de Janeiro.

But the accommodation crisis was averted because the organisers did not avail the services of cruise ships after only seven of the 64 games were held in the Brazilian city.

But Qatar, which is expecting around 1.2 million international visitors for the ongoing Fifa World Cup is falling back on cruise ships to tide over an acute accommodation crunch.

Data shows that the organisers have less than 100,000 rooms at their disposal and services of three cruise ships have been enlisted to accommodate thousands of fans who have been facing hard times because of lack of hotel rooms for the marquee event, which started on November 20 and ends on December 18.

The organisers have chartered three cruise ships — MSC Poesia, MSC World Europa and MSC Opera — that are moored permanently at Doha’s Grand Cruise Terminal, which is located just 10 minutes by shuttle buses to Souq Waqif, the heart of Qatar’s capital city.

The minimum price at MSC Opera is $470 (Dh1,726) per person per night during the group stage of the tournament, which ends on December 2, with a minimum two-night stay.

Similarly, MSC Cruises, an Italian global cruise line, has partnered with Qatar Airways to reinforce its commitment to support the growth of international tourism in Qatar and the Arabian Gulf region, where the world’s third-largest cruise liner is the brand leader.

Prices on the cruise ships to fall during the tournament when half the teams go home. For instance, during the round of 16 and quarterfinals, which will be held between December 3 and 10, the cheapest rooms on MSC Opera cost $320 (Dh1,175) and $220 (Dh808) during the final week. Basic rates include breakfast on board and an additional daily payment of Dh320 for all meals. House beverages are also available on board. A single-night stay on MSC Europa starts at Dh808 with a minimum of three-night guaranteed accommodation.

MSC World Europa is the first in the trailblazing world class of ships and features 33 restaurants, bars and lounges, each with its own distinct style and ambience, including six specialty restaurants and seven brand new bar and café concepts, entertainment options across new hi-tech venues, six swimming pools in distinct parts of the ship.

MSC World Europa will spend her inaugural season in the Middle East offering seven-night cruises to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island, the UAE; Dammam, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Doha from December 20 — two days after the curtains come down on the Arabian Gulf’s first World Cup extravaganza.

The vessel, which is 47 metres wide and has 22 decks and 2,626 cabins, can accommodate more than 6,700 passengers and employs over 2,000 crew members.

She is an ultramodern urban metropolis at sea offering a veritable world of different experiences whilst setting a new standard for the cruise industry.

Earlier in 2019, MSC Cruises had signed a deal with the Qatari government to provide two cruise liners with about 4,000 cabins as floating hotels for international visitors.

Akbar Al Baker, chairman of Qatar Tourism and Qatar Airways group CEO, singled out the importance of the marine industry for his nation’s bid to attract more international tourists.

Akbar Al Baker
Akbar Al Baker

“While Qatar Airways is the global aviation gateway to Qatar, the marine industry is very important to tourism and the long term economic and cultural connections it brings. As sustainability is vital to the future growth of aviation, MSC World Europa illustrates how the marine industry is addressing the challenges of efficiency and emissions reductions… it shows the enormous endeavour and collaboration necessary to deliver the best World Cup ever,” says Al Baker.

Sustainability holds the key

Linden Coppell, Vice President of Sustainability & ESG, MSC Cruises, says, “Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. Our long-term commitment is to achieve zero emissions across all operations, both at sea and ashore.”

Linden Coppell
Linden Coppell

MSC World Europa, which is the first ship to be powered fully by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), has the lowest carbon footprint per passenger in the cruise industry.

Coppell cited the distinction “because, unlike standard marine fuels, LNG nearly eliminates air pollutant emissions, including sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and fine particles, and achieves a carbon dioxide reduction of up to 25 per cent.”

The vessel possesses the most advanced wastewater treatment technology. She uses a state-of-the-art ballast water treatment system, which is designed to protect the ocean from invasive species.

Last year, MSC Cruises had made an ambitious pledge to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in their cruise marine operation by 2050.

“Our ultimate ambition is to operate a truly zero emissions fleet. As part of this journey, we aim to meet the industry target of 40 per cent improvement in emissions intensity by 2030. That’s relative to a 2008 baseline.

Protecting our oceans is of utmost importance. Today, 14 of 19 MSC Cruise ships are equipped with Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS) to reduce sulphur from ship emissions by 98 per cent. Our hybrid EGCS allows wash water to be collected in holding tanks, so they do not directly discharge into ports or other sensitive areas.

MSC Seashore has become our third ship, after MSC Grandiosa and MSC Virtuosa, to be fitted with a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system. This technology significantly reduces nitrogen oxides (NOx) and transforms it into harmless nitrogen and water. Our goal is to ensure SCR systems are a compulsory part for all future ships,” she adds.

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