DUBAI: Located a stone’s throw from Qatar, Dubai offers to fill a possible accommodation shortage for the FIFA World Cup being held in its neighbor, but the less fortunate fans are still likely to be left out.
Some 1.2 million visitors are expected from November 20 to December 18 in Qatar, a small but rich gas state of 2.8 million inhabitants, which promises an exceptional World Cup.
Faced with a limited supply of accommodation in Doha, Dubai has entered the ranks to attract some of the wealthy football fans.
Barely an hour by plane, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is the temple of luxury hotels and restaurants and shopping.
The company Expat Sport, which presents itself as the leader in sports tourism in the Gulf, is based there and offers various packages to supporters of the World Cup, including a plane ticket to Doha.
“This new audience will include people who have never ventured into this region before,” Sue Holt, director of Expat Sport, told AFP.
The company offers packages to Dubai starting at $1,500 for four nights. According to her, reservations have already been made for customers from North America, Europe, China or India.
The company’s flagship offer includes several nights in a gigantic new hotel in the heart of an artificial island in the shape of a palm tree.
But whether in Doha or Dubai, many fans may be surprised by the prices of accommodation and restaurants that are far from affordable.
According to Ronan Evain, director of Football Supporters Europe, a large proportion of Europeans who have bought tickets for matches risk “cancelling because they cannot afford this kind of budget” for accommodation.
“In Brazil, in Russia, you can take a train, rent a car, go to accommodation 200 kilometers away, come just for the day of the match, you can camp, rent an apartment for two. All that is not possible in Qatar “, he observes. And Dubai is “not necessarily more affordable”.
“There is indeed a premium clientele that comes to the World Cups, but that’s not what fills the stadiums, it’s marginal,” he insists.
Most supporters “are not people who can afford cruise ship trips at $5,000 a week,” he quips.
find a balance
Ronan Evain criticizes Fifa for having “played a role”, through its complacency, in Qatar’s stubbornness not to “evolve” and “review its model”.
For Qatar, the organization of the World Cup is “a question of prestige” and is not intended to “open the way to a complete overhaul of the country’s tourism model”, points out Robert Mogielnicki, researcher at the center of reflection Arab Gulf States Institute.
“What the Qataris don’t want is to end up with an overabundance of tourist infrastructure for a category of tourists who are unlikely to have a regular and constant presence in the country”, explains this Gulf expert to the AFP.
According to him, the emirate will probably continue to seek to attract tourists “from elite circles”.
However, Qatari officials must find “a balance between the immediate needs linked to the World Cup and longer-term tourism objectives”, said Robert Mogielnicki.
But, notes the researcher, the regional trend is mainly in the direction of “luxury and high-end”, including in Saudi Arabia, which is now seeking to attract more tourists, other than Muslim pilgrims to Mecca.