Skift Take

Travel agencies are busy deploying plans to help Latin American fans pay for flights and lodging for the FIFA World Cup in light of steep exchange rates. Those rabid fútbol fans are topping the global demand lists for tickets.

Despite soaring economies and lousy exchange rates for traveling, Latin American countries are at the top of the list for tickets to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 taking place in November. 

During the first 20 days of sales, 17 million tickets were requested. Qatar had the most applicants, but Argentina and Brazil’s fútbol fanatics were in second and third place. England, France, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. followed.

The distance, the disadvantageous currency exchange, hasn’t discouraged Latin American fans, and the industry is ecstatic. 

For Paula Cristi, country manager for Argentina and Uruguay at the travel website Despegar, the World Cup means the “gathering of different cultures in one place, an excellent chance to travel.” The site saw a sales boom in November, when flights to Qatar 2022 at the time of the Cup became available, and another following the chance to request tickets for the matches. They expect a new wave for the final draw in March.

Alejandro Calligaris, country manager for Despegar in México, said there was a 300 percent growth in the searches for flights to Qatar in 2022. “Searches grew 23 percent in January and February, in relation to the last two months of 2021”, explained Daniela Araujo, sourcing air director at Brazilian Decolar. 

Sources from Kayak.com told Skift that this year they have had a “larger than usual interest” in Qatar, “a rare destination for countries that registered the most searches,” like Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, the U.S. and Colombia. 

All In on Messi and Neymar

The exchange rates make it very difficult for South Americans to afford this trip. Prices for flights can be steep, even though many airlines fly from this region to Doha.

For example, game tickets range from $70 (U.S.) to over $600 (U.S.), and between $600 (U.S.) to $1,600 (U.S.) for the finale. Added to that, February prices for a two-way flight between Buenos Aires and Doha in November are around 603,000 Argentine pesos $5,642, U.S.) in Despegar. Meanwhile, an average salary in Argentina is of 31.035 Argentine pesos ($295, U.S.). 

Lodging is another issue: “Qatar has luxury hotels as well as affordable options, for different budgets. So the best is to search for routes that offer the most convenient option in relation to the value.” said Despegar’s Cristi.

Argentineans will bear no expense to see Lionel Messi at possibly his last World Cup. The same goes for Brazilians, the only “pentacampeão” or five-time world champion, and Neymar’s already bulked list of accomplishments. But the average household income in Brazil dropped to R$2.459 (about $478, U.S.) in 2021, while in Decolar a November flight between São Paulo and Doha costs R$15.612 ($3.038, U.S.). 

Plane tickets can be the highest expense of the trip, so companies focus on financing: “We have increased the payment options in Brazil, so travelers can fraction it in up to two cards, among other options through our fintech, Koin”, said Araujo. 

The bet seams even crazier for Mexicans, whose team has not qualified yet. An average salary there is 7,380 Mexican pesos ($363, U.S.), while February data from Despegar indicates a round trip to Doha in November is around 44,000 pesos ($2.165, U.S.). 

“Companies tend to facilitate the trip offering all inclusive packages. Being Qatar so far away, and given the cultural and language differences, experts that can offer an easy and complete experience have an advantage”, said sources from Kayak. “Another strategy has been to plan stopovers with lodging in Europe within the trip to Qatar”. 

The Other Side

With major football capitals far away and prices steep for the average pocket, plus a pandemic, will the World Cup bring Qatar the desired economic benefit? 

“According to the WTO (World Trade Organization), 61 percent of tourism professionals foresee improvements for the end of 2022. This added to the enthusiasm the World Cup always generated, allows us to be optimistic for Qatar”, said Callegaris. 

“We believe there’s a large desire to travel for events like this, to cheer for the favorite team”, added sources from Kayak. 

On the other side, accusations of “sportswashing” have been increasing, while Middle Eastern media reports the promised roads and buildings remain unfinished, along the cruel reality of migrant workers at the Gulf-state. 

The International Labor Organization (ILO) released a report regarding work-related deaths and injuries: 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 and 500 were severely injured. The analysis stressed many of these incidents were related to World Cup projects.

Tags: despegar, doha, latin america, qatar, Qatar World Cup, soccer, tourism