Although Qatari tourism officials are projecting a welcoming image for their country, it will take more than one more tournament to prove it. The answer would come with the treatment of LGBTQ visitors later on when Qatar is out of the spotlight.
Qatar has spent billions of dollars on its tourism infrastructure ever since it won the right 12 years ago to host soccer’s FIFA World Cup in 2022. So how have tour operators been preparing to welcome the roughly 1.2 million fans expected to visit the country for the event that will run November 21 to December 18?
They’ve been creating new offerings and taking steps to accommodate as many visitors as possible while trying to navigate the myriad of controversies surrounding this year’s event, including concerns regarding the safety of LGBTQ fans attending the tournament.
“We will be providing packages that we have (called) Road to FIFA,” said Mubasshir Ali, the administration manager for Doha Transit & Tours, which will take guests to World Cup venues starting in June. The company, which is targeting prospective visitors from participating nations via travel agencies in their countries, is also developing other tours it aims to have up and running prior to the start of the tournament.
Another tour operator hoping to take advantage of expected World Cup crowds is ramping up preparations in another critical area.
Adbullah Alouh, the founder and CEO of Doha-based luxury inbound tour operator Q Explorer, said his company has made arrangements with U.S.-based partner Overseas Network to help bring in more than 40 tour guides fluent in languages such as French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese to assist guests. Q Explorer will start training the new staff in September.
The presence of those multilingual employees could help make Qatar’s tours more appealing for prospective guests.
Ali believes that Doha Transit & Tours could earn up to $100,000 in monthly sales (400,000 Qatari riyals), a 200 percent increase from its current figure, by the time of the World Cup.
However, tour operators in Qatar may not attract as many guests as they were expecting during the tournament. Only fans with match tickets will be allowed to enter Qatar while the World Cup is taking place due to concerns about the country’s limited accommodation for overseas visitors.
So will being only able to welcome travelers with World Cup tickets affect the plans that Qatari tour operators had for the tournament? Host counties of other major soccer tournaments have attracted thousands of ticketless spectators.
Ali and Alouh don’t believe that their companies will be negatively affected by the requirement that fans coming for the World Cup have match tickets, as both expressed optimism that the expected large crowds coming to Qatar to attend matches would materialize. Early signs indicate that will be the case as more than 800,000 tickets for the event were sold during its first sales phase. The following phase of tickets sales started April 5.
A bigger concern for the country’s tourism officials is whether fans belonging to the LGBTQ community will feel safe in Qatar, where same-sex relations are criminalized.
England Manager Gareth Southgate has expressed concerns that some LGBTQ supporters of his country’s team may skip the tournament due to fears about their safety.
While FIFA President Gianni Infantino has urged LGBTQ fans to attend the event, Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari, a Qatari official in charge of security for the tournament, said that fans in Qatar brandishing rainbow flags could have them confiscated.
Ali maintained his company would treat all tour guests with respect.
When asked if members of the LGBTQ community would be safe in Qatar, Alouh said that the country would present no security concerns for fans.
But when pressed specifically about the safety of LGBTQ fans, he assured them that they wouldn’t face any difficulties in the country.
“We are very open here. (We have) no problem with anyone,” he said.
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Photo credit: An image of Qatar. LeafWriter / Pixabay