At a time when every destination in the world is throwing its doors open to foreign tourists, accommodation-strapped Qatar may have to deny entry to ticketless tourists when the World Cup kicks off in the country in November.
As Qatar gets set to host the most geographically-compact world cup, the country may have turn down tourists for the month of November and December to accommodate football fans instead.
Limited accommodation facilities could drive Qatar to allow entry only to travelers with a valid World Cup ticket for the months of November and December.
“No final decision has been made in this regard. However, it’s likely that those without a World Cup ticket, unless they are residents or locals, might be restricted to enter Qatar from November till the end of December,” said Philip Dickinson, vice president of international markets for Qatar Tourism.
Meanwhile, Qatar has also come up with innovative solutions to accommodate an estimated 1.5 million visitors expected to attend the event over the course of five weeks.
Qatar Airways announced last week that airlines in the region would be operating more than 160 daily shuttle flights, allowing fans from nearby cities to fly in to Doha and return on the same day.
Reports suggest that airfares to Doha have been skyrocketing ahead of the world cup, with the economy class UAE-Qatar airfare jumping by nearly 1,900 percent.
Options Galore for Football Fans
While exploring regular accommodation facilities like hotels, apartments and villas, Qatar will also be housing visitors in “floatels” or floating hotel, essentially rooms aboard cruise ships.
Football fans can opt to stay at two MSC cruise liners, each with 6,000 cabins, docked at the new grand terminal in Doha.
The other big accommodation unit would be apartments and villas, operationally being handled by hospitality giant Accor, providing an additional 60,000 rooms.
Accommodation is not an issue, the pressure seems to be on hotel rooms, said Dickinson.
“We don’t have an abundance of hotel rooms, as these are being allocated in terms of teams first, federations and sponsors. Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) currently holds a lot of those rooms, and once everyone’s accommodated, they’ll feed the extra rooms back into the system for people to apply for them.”
In terms of the number of international visitors expected to visit the country, Dickinson was not quite sure as the ballots are still on. Spectators, who want a ticket for a game need to apply through the ballot and while the second ballot has been completed, results are yet to be announced.“We’re thinking the number of visitors will land between 1.1 million and 1.5 million,” he said.
More Entry Restrictions
Last month, Qatar also decided to make hotel booking through Discover Qatar — the destination management company for Qatar Airways — mandatory for Indian, Pakistani and Iranian nationals, for the full length of their stay to avail the visa-on-arrival facility.
With huge volumes coming in, particularly from India, this was another effort being made by the Ministry of Interior to control entry into the country.
The decision came as a bit of a surprise to the tourism department as well, said Dickinson, adding that they are in discussions with the ministry to see if there’s some flexibility around that.
“We realise that not all Indian passport holders would want to come through an inbound destination management company as they may have a direct relationship with the hotel, or another destination management company.”
Tapping Into The Transit Traffic
In 2019, 40 million passengers transited through Qatar — a huge transit hub that flies to all continents through Qatar Airways, whereas the country got only 2.1 million visitors — only 5 percent of the attainable market.
Getting another 5 percent would mean that the country would double its visitor numbers, so stopover traffic is key for the destination.
“We’ve worked closely with Qatar Airways and Discover Qatar to come up with a stopover program that’s easy to book for the trade, consumers can book it through the airline’s website. The program is essential to give people a taste of Qatar,” Dickinson said.
Passengers can book themselves at a four-star hotel for as little as $14.00 per night. Travelers can opt for an upgrade to a five-star hotel, or a room upgrade or add breakfast, transfers and excursion to the stay.
Qatar’s Priority Source Markets
While developing a tourism strategy beyond the world cup, Qatar has also identified 17 countries as priority source markets.
“The priority markets for Qatar would be the traditional point-to-point markets that already have a strong presence in the region — like UK, Germany, Italy, France, Russia (before the crisis), Eastern Europe, Turkey and the Nordics,” Dickinson said
Qatar is also prioritising stopover markets like Australia, U.S., and emerging markets like China that it hopes will open soon. India is another important market.
The tourism board will also be launching a new training platform of Tawash — the Qatar Specialist program, in addition to the existing one.
“Often referred to as the ‘best-kept secret’ in the Middle East, Qatar needs to do first do some myth busting to get into that consideration space for consumers through awareness campaigns. It is a very different destination now than it was even a year ago,” Dickinson said.
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Photo credit: Qatar is set to host the most geographically-compact world cup. Gustav Brandt / Pixabay