Relaxed rules on entry into Qatar for the World Cup have opened the floodgates for more football tourists to use the UAE as a base throughout the tournament, hospitality bosses said.
With hotel bookings at a rate not seen for five years, the industry is looking to cash in on a busy World Cup winter and recoup some of the millions of dirhams lost during the pandemic.
Applications are now open for 90-day Dh100 ($27) multiple-entry tourist visas to the UAE, alongside Qatari-isued Hayya cards for World Cup ticket holders visiting Doha.
Qatar will allow Hayya card holders to be accompanied by three guests in a further boost for regional tourism.
“From now until March 2023 I expect business to be exceptionally strong,” said Naim Maadad, chief executive and founder of Gates Hospitality.
“The Qataris have made decisions for those without residency or hotel accommodation to enter for the day only, which is beneficial for the UAE and our hotel sector.
“While people are here, they will be staying more than one night and spending money in the economy here — there will be a massive influx in tourism.”
Airlines have bolstered travel options for fans by supplying 5,000 shuttle flights between the UAE and Qatar during the tournament.
And while landing slots are limited, the private jet industry is also looking forward to huge demand from wealthy fans looking to splash out on trips between Dubai and Doha.
Despite the expected business boom, Mr Maadad warned against profiteering by local businesses that could scare off repeat tourism trade in future years.
“The biggest challenge remains the cost of goods and the affordability of our business,” he said.
“By putting the prices up to cover our costs, we don’t want to price ourselves out of the market.
“Planning has been ongoing for 12 months, but we have had to move quickly, as the market is also moving fast.
“What is happening in the UK and Europe economies does have an impact on our industry.
“We will have the volume, so as a destination we collectively need to ensure we do not price ourselves out of the marketplace or give people the opportunity to say Dubai and the UAE is too expensive, let’s go to Asia next time.
“There will be a lot of people visiting for the first time, and we want them to come back again in the future.”
According to Fifa, about 3 million tickets have been sold for the finals, with 1.5 million people expected to visit Qatar over the next six weeks.
To cope with extra demand from fans attending matches in Qatar, taxi provider Careem has increased the size of its fleet by 50 per cent.
It has also introduced rides to and from Dammam and Al Ahsa to Doha, to make it easier for nearby Saudi Arabia fans to travel to matches.
Fan zones across Dubai are likely to be a big draw for fans. Dubai Harbour, the Coca-Cola Arena and DIFC are preparing to host huge fan events.
Dennis McGettigan will operate one of the largest fan zones at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, due to open for Qatar's opener against Ecuador on Sunday, November 20.
“There is a huge increase in people travelling in from America, and South America,” he said.
“We want people to enjoy themselves and walk out after a match and think ‘wow’ what a place to watch a game.
“We certainly don’t want it to be overcrowded or uncomfortable.”
The fan zone will be split in two — a winter themed festive family area with a capacity for 1,000 people, and a football area capable of serving 5,000 fans, with 300 staff on standby.
There will be 10 bars, 20 food trucks and restaurants and big screens to show all 64 live matches.
Mr McGettigan said while any trouble was unlikely, his staff would be well prepared.
“My personal priority is for everyone to have a good time. We want people to come and enjoy themselves safely,” he said.
“On certain matches we will be overstaffed beyond belief, just to be sure. If anything kicks off we want to be in a position to respond immediately.
“We expect to sell somewhere between 150-200,000 pints of beer during the World Cup. It has been a tough time since Covid, so this is the shot in the arm that everybody needs right now.”
Dubai Harbour is the official venue for one of the six International Fifa Fan Festivals globally and is expected to welcome thousand of fans throughout the tournament.
“We look forward to giving football fans an unrivalled multifaceted seafront viewing and entertainment experience, rekindling the city’s connection with the sea,” said Abdulla Binhabtoor of Shamal Holding.
“We are ready to welcome more than 10,000 football lovers each day from around the world to enjoy their favourite game at our extraordinary iconic district.”