Sports tourists heading to the UAE this winter are expected to boost the local hospitality and events economy by millions of dirhams, analysts said.
The UAE topped a list of preferred destinations for those travelling to the region to catch some of the biggest global sporting events, such as the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and European Tour golf’s Race to Dubai finals.
A recent report by online travel agency Musafir found travellers opted for the UAE because of its proximity to major sporting events as well as family-orientated activities, personal safety, security, room availability, shopping, adventure sports and seamless connectivity.
Meanwhile, hospitality companies in Dubai reported “considerably” higher demand for hotel rooms, events, brunches and yacht hire resulting from the high-profile sports events in the final quarter of the year.
The football World Cup in Qatar is the main draw, with a deluge of arrivals imminent from South America ― a relatively new tourism market for the Emirates.
“This is the usual high leisure season for international source markets, but we are certainly seeing a rise in demand this year in arrivals from particular destinations, including Argentina and Brazil,” said Mohanad Malhas, general manager at Arabian Adventures, which operates desert safaris, overnight camping and dune buggy hire.
“We are witnessing strong demand for our services during the winter months of 2022.
“This is across our entire range of services, from planning, hotel stays, transfers, arrivals and in-resort organising excursions, managing events and cruises, alongside our award-winning desert safari and city tour products.
“For groups and individual travellers, clients are choosing Dubai as a hub during the months of highly anticipated mega events coming to the region this winter.”
Sports tourism destination
According to the World Trade Organisation, the Middle East is becoming the world’s fastest-growing sports tourism destination valued at an estimated $600 billion (Dh2.2 trillion).
Aloki Batra, chief executive of Five Hospitality — operator of Five Hotels on The Palm Jumeirah and in Jumeirah Village Circle — said Dubai was likely to hit peak popularity this winter.
“We have already seen a surge in advance bookings from celebrities, locals and visitors alike with a 25 per cent increase over last year,” he said.
“This is mainly from our key markets such as the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Germany and France.”
It is not only hotel providers who will benefit from the boom, with ancillary tourism services also reporting a significant rise in demand.
One of those industries is the pleasure yacht business.
Ahlam Mohammed, sales and marketing manager at Book Yachts in Dubai, said bookings were well up on recent years, with many people asking about sailing yachts directly to Qatar for the World Cup.
“October is usually busy, but we are seeing a lot more bookings than usual,” he said.
“We have many guests from India and America, but there are a lot more now coming in from Europe.
“People want birthdays, to hang out or just to enjoy a family holiday while they are here for the World Cup.
“We have had several enquires about taking a yacht from Dubai to Qatar, but unfortunately that is not possible owing to certain regulations, and it would take anything from 12 to 18 hours.
“Most people we speak with are travelling to Qatar by road from Dubai.”
Inbound flights to the UAE are expected to soar by up to 20 per cent compared with the same time last year, the Musafir report said.
Apart from attending sporting events, fans will want to explore thrill-seeking activities as an add-on for a comprehensive travel experience encapsulating all that the country has to offer.
The Musafir report said the average spend by travellers to Dubai would be about $5,000 (Dh18,300) for a hotel stay, transport, shopping and to explore the city.
Findings from the report showed UAE hotels will record an up to 40 per cent increase in demand for accommodation and price inflation with occupancy rates likely to hit 100 per cent during the tournament.
Data also showed an 80 per cent growth in advance bookings for travel between Dubai and Doha.
That has been encouraged by the joint multiple-entry tourist visa for the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman to holders of the Hayya Fan ID.
“Sports events act as a catalyst and can have a tremendous impact on the economy ― as we will see millions of fans gather to not only watch their favourite sport but also to have an unforgettable experience during their stay in the region,” said Sachin Gadoya, chief executive and co-founder of Musafir Business.
“We are anticipating an exponential growth in the tourism sector, as arrivals and occupancy will be even more than pre-pandemic times, which is a much-needed boost for the travel and hospitality sector.”