Qatar World Cup: new Hayya card rules trigger spike in demand for shuttle flights

'Hayya with Me' feature allows three guests to visit Qatar with match ticket holder

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Travel agents are predicting a surge in demand for World Cup shuttle flights from the UAE after visa rules were relaxed to allow non-match ticket holders into Doha.

Only those with match tickets were previously allowed to enter Qatar during the tournament, once they had received the Hayya card that acts as a visa and fan ID.

International fans with match tickets now have the option of inviting up to three ticketless guests into Qatar to experience fan zones and soak up the World Cup atmosphere for a Dh500 fee, for those 12 and over.

The “Hayya with Me” feature applies to those aged 18 or over with official Fifa match tickets, but no age restrictions are in place for non-ticket holders travelling as visitors.

We saw a surge of flight bookings almost immediately after the new relaxed visa rules regarding the Hayya card were announced
Alan Holt, Expat Sport, official ticket agency

Anyone travelling for longer than 24 hours must provide proof of accommodation on the official Hayya platform before travelling to Qatar.

Alan Holt, managing director of Expat Sport, the UAE exclusive sales agent for the Fifa World Cup 2022 Official Match Hospitality programme, said the visa changes have resulted in more demand for travel.

“We saw a surge of flight bookings almost immediately after the new relaxed visa rules regarding the Hayya card were announced,” he said.

“We have block-booked more than 5,000 flights with Flydubai and Qatar Airways.

“This means that larger groups can travel together, which is important for companies taking over clients, a group of friends or sporting groups.

“The flight timings coincide with the matches and we have already sold 65 per cent of our inventory.”

Each shuttle flight with Flydubai has 156 economy seats and 10 in business class.

Portugal against Uruguay on November 28 has been the most popular group game for flights from Dubai so far, with fewer than 20 seats currently available.

November 22 is another popular day for flights, with two matches taking place; Denmark versus Tunisia and Mexico against Poland.

Etihad Airways is offering fixed-rate economy return flights from Dh2,830 from Abu Dhabi, and packages to include a one-night hotel stay for Dh8,300 per person.

Record hospitality sales

With just 30 days to go until the opening match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador, World Cup ticket sales are nearing three million.

The top 10 purchasing nations are Qatar, the US, Saudi Arabia, England, Mexico, UAE, Argentina, France, Brazil and Germany.

The month-long event is likely to be the most lucrative World Cup in history, with 240,000 hospitality packages already sold — a tournament record.

Fifa packages will allow access to luxurious stadium lounges and cost more than $34,300 per person for semi-final matches and the final.

Travel agents working on behalf of supporters using Dubai as a base said more accommodation will continue to become available as the tournament progresses and teams are knocked out.

Cancellations are also expected as fans are likely to change their plans.

Mercedes Basutto from the Travel Counsellors agency has arranged packages for Argentina World Cup fans, many of whom will stay in Dubai.

“By November 30, we will know where Argentina will be in the knockout rounds so we will see then what availability is like,” she said.

“The group stages are pretty much sold out for accommodation, but 30-40 per cent of rooms will be released by November 30 on the Fifa accommodation portal.”

According to the Qatar organising committee, two million room nights have been sold so far, with an additional 30,000 rooms made available to accommodate last-minute ticket sales.

Several new hotels will open this month and residents in Qatar can register their homes as temporary rental accommodation to cash in on demand.

“There was an issue at the start of the year with bookings but we are starting to see the release of more rooms, but the cost is quite high,” said Ms Basutto.

“It is about $1,500 a night for a room, which can be shared by three people which helps with costs.

“A two-bedroom apartment can still be picked up for $1,500 a night.”

Updated: October 18, 2022, 1:11 PM