The World Cup gave Qatar the opportunity to show the world its possibilities as a tourist destination. Once the World Cup is over, global public attention will scatter and memories will fade. Officials say they'll be happy as a vibrant stopover destination.
As the 2022 FIFA World Cup draws to a close, Qatar plans to capitalize on the global event’s publicity, visitation numbers and supporting infrastructure as a an opportunity to put the country on the map as a competitive tourist destination moving forward.
“Five billion eyeballs of the world were looking at Qatar and seeing a lot of positive news and people going home are blown away by what this country and region has to offer,” said Qatar Tourism Chief Operating Officer Berthold Trenkel on Wednesday at a session titled “Lessons from the World Cup: Where We Go From Here” at Skift Global Forum East in Dubai.
In terms of publicity, Trenkel said there’s been a “market shift in the tone and in the articles” about Qatar’s hosting of the sport event. The country recently got some negative publicity for banning alcoholic beverages at stadiums two days before the first match. Trenkel said the decision contributed to creating a family friendly and relaxed atmosphere, which was frequently mentioned in reviews of the event.
During the conversation, Skift CEO Rafat Ali asked Trenkel about media reports saying the country missed its visitation target, what the reason may be and expectations moving forward. Qatar received just over 765,000 visitors during the first two weeks of the World Cup, falling short of the 1.2 million forecasted for the month-long event.
Trenkel said there’s still time for Qatar to hit its target as the event enters the final games this weekend. Croatia will be playing Morocco for third place and France will be playing Argentina for the championship. Qatar expects a “huge influx” of visitors from Saudi Arabia for the upcoming games this weekend, according to Trenkel. “Let’s tally once we are done,” he said.
Trenkel also talked about what’s next for the stadiums built in the run up to the World Cup. The temporary arena Stadium 974 is being dismantled, and there are plans to leverage the available space, according to Trenkel. Some of the smaller stadiums will be used for other sports.
Some stadiums could be converted for uses other than sport events. “Some will be converted and there are different concepts under study, where you can imagine turning it into a kind of biosphere jungle environment,” Trenkel said.
With the new publicity and infrastructure, the country will be aggressively pushing to take regional market share and get a return on all of the new hotels its built in the last few months. “Over the last few months, we’ve grown from around 30,000 keys to 45,000 by January, and we are under obligation to maximize occupancy,” he said.
The country plans to leverage Hamad International Airport’s position as an international connection hub to lure visitors into taking stopover trips. “Hamad International Airport, which is rated as the best airport in the world, is something we need to more actively exploit because we already have all these people flying on Qatar Airways,” Trenkel said. Qatar will be “dialing up the idea of the stopover concept” and encouraging visitors to enjoy the country’s culture, museums, and the famous marketplace Souq Waqif.
Given the country’s size and density, the stopover push is a better fit for the destination. “We are not a huge country where you come in, you’re going to do a road trip traveling for four weeks or anything,” said Trenkel. “We are a small compact destination so pushing the angle of stopover is much more suited actually to the place that Qatar is.”
Qatar also hopes to unlock new markets. The country will be welcoming its first charter flight in January, and it will carry tourists from one of the “ex-Russian countries” hoping to take advantage of Qatar’s winter weather, Bethel said. ”Unlocking those things puts us for the first time on the road where tourism is becoming serious.”
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Photo credit: Qatar Tourism Chief Operating Officer Berthold Trenkel and Skift CEO and founder Rafat Ali at Skift Global Forum East in Dubai on December 14, 2022. Skift