LONDON: Dubai has enjoyed a huge boost in tourism as thousands of football fans have decided to base themselves in the UAE during the World Cup after being lured by the city’s relaxed atmosphere, the Financial Times has reported.
Supporters have reportedly preferred the vibrant UAE, making daily trips to Qatar on the shuttle flights that connect the countries during the tournament.
Fans from participating countries have opted for Dubai’s more relaxed vibes and lively nightlife over Doha’s more straitlaced atmosphere.
“If you cannot stay in Qatar, Dubai is the place you would most like to go as a foreign tourist,” said James Swanston, a Middle East and North Africa expert at Capital Economics.
“It is somewhere safe, somewhere more liberal in terms of Western norms. It is the most attractive destination.”
Concerns were raised in the weeks before the tournament about available hotel room space in Qatar, while a controversial 11th-hour U-turn to ban alcohol in and around the stadiums resulted in many fans looking for an alternative place to stay.
Dubai has been buzzing with supporters from all over the world in recent days, and they have added to the many tourists in the city in search of winter sun.
Passenger numbers have surpassed 6 million a month in the latest quarter, topping pre-pandemic levels, according to figures released by airport operators.
“Dubai has extremely strong demand at this time of year and I’m sure there will be people traveling through Dubai to the World Cup,” said Issam Kazim, chief executive of Dubai Tourism. “This tournament will be a boost for the entire region.”
Although exact figures have yet to be disclosed, the Dubai Sports Council said the city was expecting an estimated additional 1 million visitors during the course of the tournament.
Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, previously described the city as “the major gateway” to the World Cup and predicted it would see more tourists than Qatar itself.
However, officials say the number of fans visiting the emirate with the sole purpose of catching games in Qatar is likely to be in the low tens of thousands, or the equivalent of a three percentage point increase in hotel occupancy.
Many match tickets have been sold to expatriates living in the city, which constitute up to 90 percent of Dubai’s 3.5 million population.
Although it is still too early to evaluate the impact of the World Cup across the region, the demand for hotel rooms has seen a massive surge compared to last year.
Many of the fans who chose Dubai as their base to travel to Qatar, or as the main hub to immerse themselves in the tournament atmosphere, have had the opportunity not only to enjoy the city’s lavish lifestyle, but to explore its world-class attractions.