World-2022 fever seizes Dubai, which seeks to attract supporters

A few weeks before the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, football fever has taken hold of the neighboring emirate of Dubai, which hopes to attract some of the supporters.

The first tourist destination in the Gulf, just an hour’s flight from Doha, the city is banking on its infrastructure and its openness to attract supporters, who will have the opportunity to make the round trip during the day during the tournament, from November 20 to December 18.

According to the authorities of Qatar, 160 flights will shuttle between the host country and its neighbors daily, including more than thirty from Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates.

These charter flights are a godsend for the approximately ten million inhabitants of the Emirates, mostly expatriates, like Firas Yassine, supporter of the France team.

This young Franco-Lebanese residing in Dubai did not hesitate to buy tickets to attend with his wife the first World Cup organized in the Middle East.

But, chilled by the price of hotel rooms in Doha, they decided to make the round trip on November 26, arriving five hours before the first whistle and leaving a few hours after the end of the match. “I’m going to visit the city, watch the game and then go home,” he told AFP.

– Touristic destination –

The Dubai authorities hope that this option will also appeal to football fans from abroad.

Qatar plans to welcome between 1 and 1.2 million people during the World Cup, but some supporters complain about the scarcity of accommodation offered in Doha, the restrictions on alcohol or the absence of leisure activities in this rich but small conservative Muslim country.

Less rich in hydrocarbons than the neighboring emirates, Dubai has established itself as a global tourist hub, with its countless hotels, bars, shopping centers and oversized attractions.

“Up to a million visitors” could put their luggage in the Emirates during the World Cup, the public body Dubai Sports Council hoped last week in a press release.

Authorities had announced earlier this month that multiple-entry visas would be granted to holders of match tickets.

Some supporters “will want to take the opportunity to visit both countries”, predicts Expat Sports, a tourism agency specializing in sports events, based in the Emirates. “Dubai is known worldwide and many football-related activities will be offered there,” she added in an email to AFP.

The emirate has announced the opening of several fan zones, in parks, on beaches or in the financial center of Dubai, famous for its many luxury restaurants.

– “Lower social standards” –

A hotel, on the artificial island of The Palm, will also be entirely reserved for football fans.

Expat Sports says it has seen strong demand for bookings “from Mexico, the UK, Europe and India”. “At this rate, we expect the hotel to be full,” she said.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister of the Emirates and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, said tourism revenues had jumped to $5 billion in the first half of 2022, expecting a “strong performance this winter”.

Before the pandemic, Dubai alone received almost 16 million tourists in 2019, compared to 5.51 million the following year and 7.3 million last year.

In addition to “the advantage of being a major tourist destination”, the emirate stands out from other Gulf cities for “more flexible social standards on certain cultural aspects, such as alcohol consumption or dress codes”, underlines James Swanston of Capital economics.

In Qatar, in normal times, the sale of alcohol is limited to one government store and around 30 hotel bars and restaurants.

The organizers tried last week to reassure fans by announcing that beer stalls would open for a few hours around the stadiums, and in the main Fifa fan zone in Doha.

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