Hotels in Dubai expect to be close to full capacity in the final months of the year as tens of thousands of football fans plan to use neighbouring countries as a base for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Supporters groups are booking up hotels in the emirate en masse, with up to 100 supporters planning to base themselves at a single hotel and travel to Doha for matches in November and December.
The most interest has come from nations with a long history of success at the Fifa World Cup, held every four years and making its first appearance in the Middle East from November 21.
Supporters from South American teams and European powerhouses are creating the most demand for hotel rooms, as fans expect their nations to reach the latter stages of the tournament.
David Allen, cluster general manager for Radisson Hotels, said group bookings are being taken in huge numbers.
“As there is little to no availability in Qatar, we are seeing a lot of interest here,” he said.
“The types of groups are booking from the more traditionally successful World Cup nations, like Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Germany.
“A lot of South Americans are booking up in groups so they will clearly have a strong base here.
“Bookings of between 50 to 100 are being made at a time.”
UAE an obvious choice
Accommodation in Doha for football fans heading to Qatar is mixed.
From designated fan camps in temporary housing units 40 minutes outside of the city, to cruise ships docked in the glittering West Bay, city hotels and Airbnb-style options, many are expensive or already booked up.
Mr Allen said Dubai is an obvious choice for many.
“We have to be wary about putting rival supporters together, so we are careful not to have block bookings for teams from Holland and Germany for example,” he said.
“It is something we are mindful of, but it is just common sense. I don’t anticipate there being any issues.”
The UAE has become an attractive option for fans, with Air Arabia and flydubai operating a combined total of more than 45 daily shuttle flights from Dubai and Sharjah into Doha.
Travel is only open to match ticket holders with a valid Hayya fan ID and tourist visa for Qatar, arriving in Doha at least four hours before a match and departing four hours after.
Many hotels in Dubai are expected to operate mini fanzones and erect big screens from where games can be enjoyed during the month-long tournament.
"The upcoming Qatar World Cup has created an air of optimism in the tourism sector, with an increase in hotel bookings across the UAE for the period of November and beyond,” said Varun Ahuja, director of sales at Aloft Dubai South.
“We have hotel confirmed bookings from transient individuals and fan groups, mainly coming from Latin America, the UK and Germany.
“We are also starting to see family bookings with a very healthy length of stay of between five and seven days.”
Busy season for the region
The hotel will offer a shuttle bus service to the nearby Dubai World Central airport to cater for fans heading to Doha.
Kim Iskandar, vice president and commercial director, for Middle East, Africa and Turkey, for Hilton Hotels, said demand has been high in the UAE for November.
“With the announcement of shuttle flights to Doha, the UAE is a great choice for football fans who are visiting Qatar and looking to explore the wider region,” she said.
Abu Dhabi's Rotana capitalises on demand
Rotana Hotels is one group to have developed new accommodation options in Qatar, specifically for the World Cup.
The group took over management of the 250-room Sedra Arjaan hotel located on The Pearl Island and is opening a new property a 503-room Residences by Rotana in time for the World Cup.
Guy Hutchinson, Rotana president and chief executive, said occupancy rates are likely to be close to 100 per cent during the tournament.
“I am positive we will see an immediate impact on the region from the Fifa World Cup with neighbouring countries benefiting as key transit hubs with efficient connectivity and advanced accommodation options,” he said.
“The recent announcement of several Gulf airlines co-operating to offer visitors daily shuttle flights to Qatar will allow fans to stay in cities such as Dubai and fly for the day, ensuring a busy season for the whole region.
“It will result in a spillover of domestic and international travel demand, not only to Qatar but to all neighbouring countries as well.”
Analysis from Colliers in its latest Mena Hotel Forecast suggests a huge bounce back for the tourism industry will kick-in during the final quarter of 2022.
Hotels in Dubai Creek and Festival City are expected to see the biggest increase in occupancy rates since 2021, up 19 per cent to an estimated 77 per cent for the year, according to the Colliers report.
Hotels in DIFC and along Sheikh Zayed Road are forecast to see 17 per cent increase to 73 per cent occupancy, with a 17 per cent increase in Abu Dhabi Beach hotels to around 64 per cent occupancy.
Other neighbouring markets were also expected to benefit from the World Cup, with Saudi Arabia also seeing a sharp rise due to the return of pilgrims in 2022.
In Makkah, an increase of 106 per cent in occupancy compared to 2021 and an 80 per cent increase is expected in Madinah.
Bahrain's occupancy is expected to be up 9 per cent, Kuwait City will see 24 per cent more hotel stays, while hotels in Amman, Jordan will be 33 per cent busier in 2022 than the year before.
However, the Colliers report predicts a strong end to 2022 could be tempered by global instability and rising fuel costs that could impact the tourism sector into 2023.
“The Fifa World Cup is expected to result in overspill demand to the key transit hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” the report said.
"However rising instability in key CIS source markets is expected to suppress demand, with the largest impacts expected in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah.
"Given the diversity of source markets for the UAE, additional hotel demand may be induced from alternative markets at a lower price positioning.”
Additional reporting by John Dennehy