Long-term gain for UAE’s hospitality sector as country hosts England’s finest

Europe's top football teams have discovered the joys of a mid-season break in the Middle East.

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The country's hospitality sector is reaping the benefit of the UAE's growing reputation as an ideal mid-season training destination for top European football teams.

With the English Premier League (EPL) champions Manchester United currently undertaking warm-weather training in Dubai, the concurrent rise in hotel occupancy rates belies the increasing awareness globally of the Emirates as a destination.

Hotels here are benefiting, with STR Global reporting a 2.9 per cent increase in occupancy to 76.3 per cent in December compared with the same month in 2012.

In the capital, hotels such as the Yas Viceroy, which recently hosted the EPL’s Newcastle United, report a surge in occupancy rates last month.

“We are proud and were delighted to have welcomed the Newcastle United Football Club at Yas Viceroy,” said Julie Audette, the director of public relations at Yas Viceroy.

“Our general occupancy rate for January has increased by 20.3 per cent from 53.8 per cent occupancy last year in January to 74.1 for the same month this year,” she said, while acknowledging that was not a direct result of the Magpies’ stay.

Alongside Manchester United, Dubai is playing host this week to the EPL’s West Ham United and Stoke City as the teams take advantage of a 10-day break in their domestic fixture list to replenish reserves and regroup for the push towards the end of the season.

And, of course, it affords them all the chance to open up potentially lucrative new markets.

Manchester United, being masters of that particluar game, last week announced adjusted profit for the three months to December 31 was £19.8 million (Dh121.7m) compared with £19m in the year-earlier period. Higher sponsorship income helped to boost total revenue 12 per cent to £122.9m, much of that driven by an ever-increasing international fan base.

But it is not just the EPL teams that find the country an attractive proposition when weather conditions at home can best be described as miserable.

The first Dubai Challenge Cup, founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in 2007, saw the Emirati and the Iranian national teams participating alongside the big German clubs Hamburg SV and Stuttgart. Since then, clubs including the Italian giants Inter Milan and the French big-hitters Paris Saint-Germain have stopped by.

In the wider region, too, the benefits of top-class facilities and good weather prove alluring to top-flight teams.

Qatar’s inspiring Aspire Zone and its hotels have recently entertained the Spanish giants Real Madrid and the French Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

In fact, the Parisians were welcomed to their temporary home, the Torch Hotel in Doha, with a light show draping it in the team’s colours of red and blue for the occasion. The PSG manager Laurent Blanc was impressed.

“It’s my first visit to Qatar and I must say the infrastructure is wonderful here, while the excellent weather is a big plus.

“We couldn’t have hoped for more to prepare for what will be a very busy second half of the season.”

Back in the UAE, Manchester City proved last month that the vagaries of the beautiful game can scupper even the best-laid plans.

Abu Dhabi-backed City were initially scheduled to visit the capital to play a high-profile friendly against Al Ain commemorating the opening of the impressive Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. City were due to travel to Al Ain to take on the Arabian Gulf League champions in a January 14 friendly to mark the opening of the new 25,000-seater stadium. Unfortunately, just before they were due to arrive, City were held to a draw in the FA Cup by lowly Blackburn Rovers.

And the third-round draw meant the replay with Blackburn was set to take place on January 15, cancelling the Al Ain party.

It was, perhaps, something of an own-goal from the Blues.


* With additional reporting by Shuaib Ahmed