Qatar World Cup 2022 to recreate 'Expo effect' for UAE hotels

Hospitality sector in the Emirates expects near or full occupancy during the mega sporting event in November

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The first Fifa World Cup to be held in the Middle East promises booming business for UAE hotels in the last quarter of 2022 as thousands of fans flock to the Gulf country due to limited accommodation in neighbouring host country Qatar.

The UAE’s major local and international hotel chains expect to be at or near full capacity during the four-week football tournament, amid strong forward bookings for November and December, top hospitality executives said.

Hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi expect occupancy levels ranging between 80 per cent to 100 per cent, with strong demand trends similar to those recorded during the peak period of Expo 2020 Dubai, they said.

“We are expecting our occupancy in the mid to high 90s across Dubai and we are expecting performance in Dubai in the fourth quarter to be the same as the performance [in the] fourth quarter in 2021 when we had the Expo,” said Guy Hutchinson, president and chief executive of UAE-based hotel operator Rotana.

The UAE, the Gulf region’s popular travel and tourism centre, is expected to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the mega sporting event, which begins on November 20, according to hospitality industry reports.

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The World Cup is set to drive a massive influx of visitors into neighbouring transit hubs such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, boosting demand for international air travel and accommodation.

It is expected to draw 1.2 million tourists to Qatar, pushing the country’s hotel supply pipeline for 2022 alone to about 13,300 rooms, with 80 per cent of these falling under the four or five-star hotel category, according to a report by Alpen Capital.

With hotels in Qatar fully booked in the run-up to the game, hotels in the UAE are expected to record a rise in demand for accommodation of up to 40 per cent, according to a report by online travel agency Musafir.com.

Shuttle flights operated by regional airlines from Gulf cities on match days and multiple-entry tourist visas for fans attending the matches will support the movement of visitors.

Jan Hanak, the Radisson Hotel Group’s managing director for UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar, said the region was “buzzing” with travellers coming from Europe and the Middle East to watch the event.

“We have already started seeing incredibly positive performance across our hotels and we are certain there will be a multi-destination travel trend that will be seen across the region this winter,” he said.

Radisson expects occupancy rates to exceed 80 per cent across its hotels in the fourth quarter of 2022.

“We expect Q4 [the fourth quarter] to be extremely busy in the UAE and the region. As we welcome the cooler winter months, we envision high occupancy rates across rooms and F&B [food and beverage] outlets,” Mr Hanak said.

Co-operation between government entities and private operators on logistics — ranging from shuttle flights to visas for fans — is expected to deliver a “seamless” travel experience for visitors across the Gulf, he said.

Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, which recently opened the Wyndham Grand Doha West Bay Beach, is also scheduled to open the Ramada by Wyndham Doha Old Town before the World Cup starts.

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“We are expecting all our properties in Qatar and the neighbouring countries to be operating at nearly full occupancy in the lead up, during and after the World Cup,” said Michel Augier, regional director for Middle East and Africa at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts.

“The upcoming World Cup will have a positive ripple effect on the hospitality industry across the region as football fans are expected to use neighbouring countries as a base for the event, especially the UAE as the flight time is just one hour.”

Currently, the group's hotels and resorts in the region have reported a “significant increase” in revenue, with Dubai properties up 30 per cent this year from 2021 and Abu Dhabi properties up 13.9 per cent annually, indicating a “healthy position” for forward bookings, he said.

The World Cup will also coincide with the traditionally busy winter season in the UAE, year-end holidays and the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix, further boosting business for UAE hotels.

“We are expecting our properties to be very busy as November and December is the start of the peak season in the region,” Mr Augier said.

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World Cup ticket holders will be staying in surrounding countries for the tournament and flying in and out of Qatar for matches, especially during the group stages, an arrangement that will simultaneously benefit the regional hospitality industry and help to alleviate accommodation pressure in Doha, he said.

“A particular group of tourists who will benefit from regular flights and easy visa access are tourist families, who are already interested in exploring the UAE and also have members who are football fans,” Mr Augier said.

“So, we can expect the fans to fly to Qatar to watch the matches while their family members stay and vacation in the UAE. At the end of the tournament, they might even extend their stay to enjoy their holiday in the country.”

These logistical arrangements, along with cooler weather, are expected to drive an increase in hotel bookings of 15 per cent to 20 per cent in November and December, he said.

Marriott International plans to nearly double its presence in Qatar, with 10 hotels planned over the next 15 months, six of which are scheduled to open before the World Cup.

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We can expect the fans to fly to Qatar to watch the matches while their family members stay and vacation in the UAE
Michel Augier, regional director for Middle East and Africa at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts

“There is a huge growth story for us. It is kind of linked to the World Cup but we are looking at it long term,” said Sandeep Walia, chief operating officer of Marriott International in the Middle East.

“The spillover will be good too,” he said, pointing to neighbouring Gulf cities such as Dubai.

InterContinental Hotels Group, which operates the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn brands, expects average occupancy of 80 per cent in Doha and the UAE during the World Cup.

Revenue per available room, an important performance metric for the hospitality industry, is expected to increase by 10 per cent to 15 per cent annually in November and December, said Haitham Mattar, managing director for India, Middle East and Africa at IHG Hotels and Resorts.

Updated: October 14, 2022, 10:53 AM
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