Gulf tourism will continue to thrive on cooperation
During last year’s ATM and throughout the build up to ATM 2023, we have noticed that one of the more consistent trends which is becoming increasingly important to regional travel and tourism stakeholders, is sports tourism. Major sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup are often used as a platform for the host city or country in the case of Qatar, to boost their image internationally, to promote cultural heritage and to drive inward investment.
After many years of meticulous planning and major investment, I’m sure that the Qatar World Cup organising committee, has evaluated the overall benefits of hosting the biggest football tournament on earth, ensuring that their plans have a lasting impact on economic and social development.
Of course, in terms of outcome, this is vitally important, however, from a regional tourism perspective, I would suggest that another aspect of the enduring legacy of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, will be the continued cooperation between Gulf countries. Not just to ensure that major events are a resounding success in their own right, but how all Gulf countries can benefit in the future, by working together.
Let’s take a look at visas. In the first instance, local and international football fans could apply online for a Hayya Card which serves as an entry permit to Qatar, as well as an access pass to World Cup stadiums across the country.
This obviously provided a catalyst for other regional governments and in quick succession, Saudi Arabia announced visa free entry to Hayya Card holders. Oman not only offered a 60-day multiple entry e visa for Hayya Card holders, but the Sultanate also went one step further by offering visit visas on arrival for GCC residents. And the UAE announced a multiple-entry tourist visa to Hayya Card holders, permitting them to enter the UAE multiple times for a period of up to 90 days.
In terms of air travel, earlier this year, airlines across the region such as Saudia, flydubai, Air Arabia, Kuwait Airways, and Oman Air, all announced a raft of new shuttle flights to Qatar, allowing fans staying in neighbouring countries to ‘commute’ to the matches and return to their base within 24 hours.
With 2.5 million tickets sold and an estimated 1.5 million visitors from abroad travelling to the tournament, tourism in most Gulf countries will benefit through this collaboration. According to Skyscanner, flight bookings to the UAE steadily increased from the beginning of the year and rose by 114 per cent in September 2022, compared to bookings received in August.
It is also estimated that the number of passengers flying to the UAE could grow by 20 per cent this year compared with 2021. Some analysts also expect hotels in the UAE to experience an uplift of up to a 40 per cent in demand this year, although that could partly be attributed to the lingering effects of the pandemic in 2021, it is still significant growth.
And it’s not just about international travellers, many regional tourists are expected in Dubai for example during the tournament, no doubt eager to soak up the atmosphere generated by a dozen official fan zones across the emirate. The biggest of which is the fan zone at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre where as many as 5,000 football fans can watch matches on a 150sqm screen.
If this collaboration could be rolled out for future large-scale events, irrespective of which country they are in, the economic benefits for the regional tourism industry are clear. It presents an ideal opportunity for visitors to extend their stay and visit several destinations and resorts, enhancing their overall experience and encouraging them to return and to become positive influencers.
* The writer is Exhibition Director, Arabian Travel Market