By Yousef Saba
Dubai –Flight bookings to Qatar are booming for the Football World Cup in November and December, with particularly strong demand from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as fans work round a shortage of accommodation in Doha, a study showed on Tuesday.
Flight bookings to Qatar from the UAE and nine other countries have risen tenfold compared with before the pandemic, travel analysis group Forward Keys said.
From the UAE, they have rocketed 103 times compared with 2016 – the last year before the UAE joined other Arab countries in a boycott of Qatar that halted direct flights. The boycott ended in early 2021.
“The UAE’s strong showing is explained by a shortage of accommodation in Qatar,” ForwardKeys said, adding many fans were expected to stay in Dubai.
The strong demand comes in spite of the requirement to present a negative Covid-19 test to enter Qatar.
Air travel across the Gulf is set to benefit, with flight bookings to the region 16% ahead from 2019, and for the early stages of the World Cup 61% ahead, ForwardKeys said.
Fans will also travel to other destinations in the region, with the number of visitors spending at least two nights in Qatar then at least two in another Gulf country rising 16 times compared with before the pandemic.
US tourists make up 26% of such visitors, with Canadians second at 10% and Britons third at 9%.
“Dubai is the biggest beneficiary of this trend by far, capturing 65% of onward visits,” ForwardKeys said.
Qatar Tourism reported 31 123 hotel rooms in the country at the end of the first quarter.
Fifa, world soccer’s governing body, has booked 80% of available rooms for players, guests and officials during the tournament, Qatar’s World Cup organisers said. Fifa is expected to release rooms it will not need into the market over the next few weeks.
Dubai has 115 000 hotel rooms and 25 000 rental apartments, travel data firm OAG said last week.
Qatar Airways and flydubai, working together, will operate about 54 flights a day between Dubai and Qatar, versus just six scheduled previously, OAG said.