Sports tourism yields exponential growth


Sports tourism is all set to take the region by storm and FIFA World Cup Qatar is a huge step in that direction. A slew of sporting events are debuting in the region this quarter, including the first DP World Dubai World Padel Championship 2022 and NBA’s historic debut in the Arabian Gulf at Etihad Arena. Further afield, Formula 1 has confirmed that it will continue to race in Bahrain until at least the year 2036.

The Middle East is becoming the world’s fastest-growing sports tourism destination valued at an estimated $600 billion, according to the World Trade Organisation.

A recent report states that sporting events will augment the tourism and hospitality economy up to 30 per cent in the Middle East region. According to the report, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar will see the majority arrival of travellers mainly from Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, and the UK. The UAE topped the list as the preferred destination by travellers due to its proximity to major sporting events as well as family-oriented activities, personal safety and societal security, room availability, varied retail experiences, adventure sports and leisure, and seamless connectivity.

Due to seamless connectivity, the UAE can expect inbound flights to soar up to 20 per cent as compared to same time last year. Apart from attending sporting events, fans will want to explore thrill-seeking activities as an add-on for a comprehensive travel experience encapsulating all that the country has to offer.

Camping and outdoor activities will also see an increase in Q4 of 2022 due to the pleasant weather.

Sachin Gadoya, CEO and Co-founder, and Musafir Business, said: “Sports events act as a catalyst and can have a tremendous impact on the economy - as we will see millions of fans gather to not only watch their favourite sport but also to have an unforgettable experience during their stay in the region. We are anticipating an exponential growth in the tourism sector, due to the increasing number of tourists in Q4 of 2022 - as arrivals and occupancy will be even more than pre-pandemic times, which is a much-needed boost for the travel and hospitality sector.”

Findings show that due to hotels in Qatar being booked to full capacity during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hotels in the UAE will see up to 40 per cent rise in demand for accommodation and price inflation. In the lead-up to the event, has seen approximately 80 per cent growth in advance booking between Dubai and Doha. This number will significantly increase even further by the end of 2022. The report also reveals an average spend by travellers would be approximately $5,000 for a hotel stay, transport, shopping and to explore the city. The report also highlights that most of the hotel occupancy in the UAE will touch 100 per cent during Q4 2022 with tourists looking for 5-star and 4-star hotels.

Recently, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman announced a multiple-entry tourist visa for fans attending the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to holders of ‘Hayya’ card - facilitating easy entry and exit for tourists.

According to data mining experts Sojern, Qatar flight bookings from the Middle East have jumped nearly 6,000 per cent during the tournament, compared to bookings in January 2022. According to recently released Sojern data, the UAE remains the top feeder market with consistent growth month-over-month of 3 per cent, and comprises 17 per cent of all bookings to Qatar over the World Cup period, with the United States (7 per cent), India (6 per cent), United Kingdom (6 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (4 per cent) making up the remainder of the top five.

Flight bookings to Qatar from the 31 countries competing in the Fifa World Cup, and from the UAE where many fans are basing themselves during the tournament, are currently 10 times the volume of pre-pandemic levels, another report said.

The data is based on issued flight tickets, including day trips, as of September end, for travel to Qatar between November 14 and December 24, according to analysis by ForwardKeys, a leading provider of analytics for the tourism industry.

The benchmark is travel in 2019, except for the UAE, where the benchmark is 2016, owing to the Qatar diplomatic crisis, which stopped direct flights between Qatar and the UAE between 2017 and 2021.

In terms of growth, the source market set to perform most strongly during the World Cup period is the UAE; currently, bookings are ahead by 103 times the volume of 2016. It is followed by Mexico, ahead by 79 times the 2019 volume, Argentina, ahead by 77x, Spain, ahead by 53x and Japan, ahead by 46x.

The UAE’s strong showing is explained by a shortage of accommodation in Qatar. Many people are expected to stay in the UAE and fly over for the day, on match days. Currently, day trips account for 4 per cent of all arrivals in Qatar during the World Cup, 85 per cent of which originate in the UAE.

Despite the requirement to present a negative Covid-19 test to enter Qatar, the popularity of the tournament is such that there have been millions of searches online for flights to Qatar in the first nine months of the year.

Further analysis reveals that many World Cup visitors are also travelling to other destinations in the region. For example, the number staying at least two nights in Qatar and going on to stay at least two more nights in another GCC country is sixteen times greater than it was before the pandemic in 2019. Dubai is the biggest beneficiary of this trend by far, capturing 65 per cent of onward visits.