Skift Take

As it prepares to host Middle East's first-ever FIFA World Cup, Qatar expects the event to offer unique marketing potential to place the destination firmly on the tourism map. But for a country whose pre-Covid arrivals stood at 2.1 million in 2019, a goal of 1.5 million tourists for the two months of the tournament sounds overly ambitious.

For an event that comes once in four years, Federation Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) World Cup 2022 is surely helping Qatar — its host country this year — to create the right kind of buzz for its tourism sector.

As the countdown begins to the biggest tourism event — the Middle East’s very first FIFA — stakeholders talk about wanting to leave visitors beyond satisfied with their “Qatar travel experience.”

Neighbouring countries are also trying to make the most of the event. On Wednesday, Iran announced that it would waive visa fees for World Cup spectators, hoping to woo football fans flocking Qatar to visit the neighbouring destination.

Chosen by FIFA over rival bids from Australia, Japan, South Korea and the U.S., Qatar is developing infrastructure to draw tourists in droves during the World Cup.

In conversation with Skift, Berthold Trenkel, chief operating officer of Qatar Tourism, talks about the preparations afoot in Qatar for the World Cup this year.

The comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Skift: Qatar expects to bring in 1.5 million fans through FIFA World Cup 2022. This number is more than two-thirds of the country’s tourism figures for 2019 (2.1 million). How confident are you about attracting that many tourists in two months?

Berthold Trenkel: Qatar Tourism is extremely confident that we will achieve more than 1 million fans in November and December this year. Events like the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 generate global excitement and moreover in today’s context, there is the additional push or drive that comes from the millennials segment; they want to be part of the action and not the ones to sit out and watch. This segment of travelers wants to be where the action is and because of their incredible social media presence, they tend to amplify the efforts of brands — particularly tourism brands. Ticket sales for the matches is oversubscribed by a huge multiple. Especially from the football heavy weights in Latin America — Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. But we also see huge interest from markets like USA and India. Additionally, the appeal for the World Cup goes beyond football because of all the known names that are associated, as visitors or as performers at the opening and closing ceremonies. Footballers are celebrities in their own right. More than 1 million visitors is a very reasonable number given that prior editions have driven over 5 million tourists to host countries. Of course, we are not relying solely on FIFA’s inherent ability to attract fans. Qatar has undertaken huge infrastructural efforts to help us achieve our related goals.

Skift: On infrastructural efforts, how are you working to build infrastructure and create tourism assets around the event?

Trenkel: We are looking to utilize every available accommodation option and we are developing more hotels as we speak. Innovative choices for fans will include camping in the desert and staying onboard a temporarily moored cruise ship offering views of Doha’s cityscape skyline. Qatar will have up to 36,000+ keys for the one million-plus fans expected over the course of the 28-day tournament. New theme parks have also recently opened — the Quest theme park, which is home to the world’s tallest indoor shot and drop tower and the world’s tallest indoor rollercoaster.

We firmly believe that FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will serve as a catalyst to further the state’s long-term tourism goals. This is indeed our opportunity to showcase our world-famous hospitality. A host of new hotels are on the anvil and will be ready to welcome fans in November this year.

Skift: Currently there are around 180-plus hotels/hotel apartments/service apartments, where do you see that number going up to accommodate the visitors attending the World Cup? Can you list some hospitality projects coming up this year?

Trenkel: We have a really long development pipeline in preparation for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Some of the interesting projects that are set to open this year, in and around Doha, which will be the epicentre for the games, include Qetaifan Island North, Katara Towers, Place Vendôme, Rosewood, Aljaber Twin Towers, Pullman Doha, Dream Doha, The St Regis Marsa Arabiua Island, ME Doha and West Walk. Fans can expect to see an event like no other, with the incredible atmosphere of centrally-located stadiums, stunning hotels and authentic culture. The brand-new public transportation system — the metro rail and feeder buses where required, will be an important key to build connectivity.

Skift: How does Qatar Tourism intend to continue the tourism development even after the FIFA World Cup is long over?

Trenkel: Qatar has always been a favored destination among global travelers. It is our belief, and seemingly the belief of all the hospitality investors setting up new properties in Qatar as well, that travelers will get a taste of Qatar during the tournament and will not be able to get enough. It is a great opportunity for them to witness what the destination has to offer apart from the football matches, and we do expect many fans to return to Qatar in the years to come. More importantly, the World Cup will be a unique marketing spring board to put Qatar firmly on the map of tourism and drive awareness and consideration for the destination. In terms of tourism infrastructure development, the scope of Qatar’s plans extends far beyond the World Cup. We want to position Qatar as the destination for sporting events and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, alongside our strong positioning as a destination for family vacation, adventurous holidays, romantic getaways, and stopover breaks. We firmly believe that FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will serve as a catalyst to further Qatar’s long-term tourism goals.

Skift: Qatar has made pledge to host a carbon-neutral FIFA World Cup, what does that entail?

Trenkel: Our promise to host a carbon-neutral FIFA World Cup involves adopting sustainable practices for stadia right from the design through to construction and then on to energy and water usage. The stadia have sustainability at their core. Stadium 974, for example, is built from repurposed ocean shipping containers and will be completely dismantled after the tournament ends. 

Sustainable tourism is high on Qatar’s national agenda and central to the Qatar National Vision 2030. We believe that tourism needs to strike a balance between footfalls and infrastructure development on one hand and environmental protection on the other. The state of Qatar is in the process of developing and empowering environmental institutions that will work to scale up public awareness about environmental protection issues.

Tags: asia monthly, doha, fifa, football, gcc, middle east, qatar, sports tourism, world cup

Photo credit: The countdown begins as Qatar gets set to host FIFA World Cup 2022. Visit Qatar

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