The opening match between Qatar and Ecuador is set to kick off in about two months' time, signifying the start of the world’s premier football championship. From 20 November to 18 December 2022, the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar is expected to attract some 1.5 million football fans from all over the world.
While hosting the tournament in essentially one city does offer clear logistical advantages, it inevitably puts tremendous pressure on Qatar’s limited accommodation sector. With scores of dedicated football fans having all but secured their stay in the surrounding countries, the UAE, in particular, intends to take full advantage of the event.
Here’s how the World Cup will benefit and positively affect Dubai hotels as well as the UAE’s travel and tourism industry in general.
Hayya Card multiple entry visa
The UAE is opening its doors to international football fans looking to base their journey in the emirates. An initiative has been issued by the authorities to allow Hayya Card holders to obtain a renewable multiple-entry tourist visa to the UAE. A Hayya Card is issued and required by every single person attending the world event in Qatar.
The multiple-entry visa will be valid for a period of 90 days and may be extended for another 90 days. The visa will cost AED 100 and Hayya Card holders will be able to submit their application starting from 1 November 2022.
The Hayya Card visa initiative is no doubt the latest effort in the UAE government’s bid to further accelerate the country’s tourism recovery. Dubai International Airport (DXB) saw a significant rise in passengers in Q1 of 2022 with a total of 13.6 million passengers being recorded going through DXB. This translates to a 140 per cent increase when compared to the same period in 2021.
At this rate, Dubai Airports states that travel between Dubai and the rest of the world is likely to experience a full recovery as early as Q1 - Q2 of 2024, a year earlier than the initial forecast of 2025.
With Dubai’s reputation as a tourism hub continuing to show positive signs of recovering back to its former strength, the issuance of the Hayya Card multiple-entry tourist visa will more than likely entice international football fans to extend their UAE stopover into a full-blown vacation.
A surge in demand leads to full occupancy
According to Colliers International's forecast, the UAE will see a 19 per cent increase in tourism as a result of the overspill of demand during the 2022 tournament. Industry experts also predict an upswing of at least 20 per cent in room rates with hoteliers across the country expecting full occupancy.
As reported by JLL Mena, the UAE hotel industry has been experiencing a significant rebound for the first five months of 2022— with the occupancy rate at Dubai and Abu Dhabi hotels reaching 75 and 71 per cent respectively. This rise in occupancy rates is accompanied by a rise in the average daily rate (ADR); the ADR for Dubai hotels spiked to USD $213 while Abu Dhabi hotels rose to USD $112.
While it may be difficult to determine the exact ADR for UAE hotels during the event, it’s safe to say that a further increase is expected, particularly for the festive months of November and December. Data from Wego, MENA’s biggest travel metasearch, shows that the ADR for 2021 was around USD $233 for those months.
With the influx of international visitors to the UAE looming on the horizon, hotels and other types of accommodation will certainly be experiencing a surge in demand and, with it, rates.
Airlines ramping up operations
With a significant number of fans basing their stay in the UAE and flying to Qatar only on matchdays, UAE airlines are rushing in to meet the demand. Several airlines have confirmed increased weekly and special shuttle flights from the UAE to Doha. On average, more than 90 new flights are expected to arrive each day in Doha. Among those daily flights, 40 will depart from the UAE.
From Sharjah, Air Arabia will operate an additional 14 shuttle flights daily, while Etihad Airways will ramp up their weekly flights from 18 to 42 from Abu Dhabi during the tournament. Fans staying in Dubai will likely depart to Doha with budget airline flydubai, which will be operating around 60 daily shuttle flights.
Private aviation companies will also facilitate fans looking to fly to Doha from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. For example, Jetex, a private jet operator based in Dubai, has announced that it will be flying an additional 2,500 flights to and from Doha during the football tournament by popular demand.
Another private jet operator, DC Aviation Al-Futtaim (DCAF), is also planning on expanding its operation to anticipate the surge in demand.
The mega footballing event will likely result in tour operators offering bespoke travel packages to football fans basing their stay in the UAE. This means that collaborations between tour operators and private aviation companies are likely to increase in an effort to capitalise on the overspill of football fans and tourists.
High-end packages which include deluxe accommodation, limousine and private jet services are available for fans looking for the best experience. A prime example would be the "Stay in Dubai & Watch the Tournament matches in Qatar" package, which essentially is a collaboration between Yasa, a Dubai-based project management company, and Jetex, a private aviation company.
More affordable options are also being offered for the more budget-conscious fans which range from basic shared hospitality to exclusive private suites.