This year’s FIFA World Cup doesn’t officially kick off for more than a month – not until host nation Qatar and Ecuador get the tournament going on Sunday, November 20 – but Qatar, and the wider gulf coast region, is already seeing a ten-fold increase in in-bound tourism because of the event.
Latest analysis by travel data firm ForwardKeys shows that flight bookings to Qatar from the 31 countries competing in the 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.
The data is based on issued flight tickets, including day trips, as of September 29, for travel to Qatar between November 14 and December 24. 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 biggest source market surge during the World Cup period is the UAE; where 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% of all arrivals in Qatar during the World Cup, 85% 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 were millions of searches online for flights to Qatar in the first nine months of the year.
According to ForwardKeys 12% of them are for journeys originating in the UAE, 12% from the USA, 7% from Spain, 7% from India, 6% from the UK and 6% from Germany.
The tournament is set to benefit the whole Gulf region, as flight bookings to gulf coast countries during the competition are currently 16% ahead, and, for the initial stages, 61% ahead. Further analysis reveals that many World Cup visitors are also travelling to other destinations in the region.
“As global events go, the FIFA World Cup is one of the most attractive drivers of travel there is, so much so, that other destinations in the Gulf will benefit, not just the host nation, Qatar,” said Olivier Ponti, vice-president of insights at ForwardKeys.
“In tourism promotion terms, the World Cup will throw a media spotlight on Qatar and help it become a more established destination, and not just a major hub for intercontinental air traffic. Normally, just 3% of travel to Doha is destined to stay in the country; and 97% comprises onward connections. However, during the World Cup almost 27% has Qatar as the ultimate destination. The UAE will also benefit substantially from the tournament because it has much more hotel accommodation than Qatar, and two global hub airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he said.