In November 2022, the FIFA World Cup kicked off, and Qatar became the world tourism center for a month. Before the tournament, the country lifted all covid restrictions on entry – no need for a PCR test or registration through the Ehteraz app.
Letundra looks into how the emirate uses sports competitions to boost its image and gives a brief overview of rules when visiting an Islamic state. We also find out what prospects Qatar has in the Middle East tourist market and whether it is able to become an alternative to the UAE.
Sport opens borders
Now the tourism sector accounts for the total GDP 7% (in the UAE – 11%), the state has been visited by more than 11 million tourists over the past 6 years, despite the blockade by neighboring states and the pandemic. Demand continues to grow – if about 3 million people came to Qatar in 2019, then in the 6 million, future figures are expected by 2028.
The FIFA World Cup highlighted the Qatar main problem, which slows down tourism –hotels cannot cope with the load; only 30 thousand hotel rooms are ready to receive guests. The price range ranges from $100 to $500 per night, while there is an option with accommodation in a rented apartment – a rent month in the capital will cost $3 thousand.
Football fans book rooms in the neighboring UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, cruise ships have turned into floating hotels for a month. The authorities even had to go to artificial restrictions: from November 20 to December 18, entry will be open only to the Hayya Card owners, a fans’ analogue of a passport. In addition, a fee has been introduced for those who like to travel by car. The FIFA World Cup has become an excellent stress test for the tourism industry.
Dubai greatly benefits from Doha in accommodation terms – there are prices in a wider range here, and relatively liberal legislation. It is not for nothing that the city is called the best place for a foreign tourist in the Middle East. 180 thousand hotel rooms plus broad amount of rentals from owners are at the traveler’s service.
The East is a delicate matter! An Arabic fairy tale
In Qatar, the authorities are concerned about the tourism development, but the emirate remains an Islamic state with its own laws.. Strict rules apply here, unlike the liberal UAE, although visitors are treated with respect. There is a prohibition in the country, alcohol can be purchased only in certain tourist areas, drinking in public places is not welcome. The materials import that contradict the state and Islam culture in general is prohibited; close attention is paid to the dress code, it is impossible to photograph state facilities and local women. Public kissing is also considered offensive gender and sexual orientation regardless.
The Sharia law is the legislation source. Alcohol consumption in the best case can result in deportation, under aggravating circumstances; the law violation is punishable by lashes. The death penalty is not prohibited in Qatar, its variant’s one is public stoning.
At the same time, the authorities are trying to be loyal to tourists and intend to soften the strict rules somehow, especially during the World Cup, since drinking beer at the stadium has become a tradition for fans. By the way, alcohol is allowed in neighboring Bahrain, and in the UAE the authorities turn a blind eye to the drinks’ consumption by tourists.
A budget alternative to the UAE?
Qatar combines modern trends and the authenticity of an Islamic state, business tourism is developed, hotels look like Sultan’s palaces, and locals speak English. After accusations by Arab countries of being a sponsor of terrorism, the emirate had to radically change its approach to tourism and open up to the rest of the world. Thus, visa-free travel was offered to travelers from 80 countries. A lot of effort has been invested in infrastructure, entertainment, and it has borne fruit: last year, more than half a million people visited the peninsula. Mostly tourists came from India, Great Britain and the USA. They went on vacation to enjoy all the delights of a high-tech society at affordable prices. A fly in the ointment is a boycott by some European countries, including France and Norway, of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
In absolute terms, just over two million people visited the peninsula in 2019, for comparison, over the same period, the UAE welcomed seven million. Qatar is not the most popular place for a beach holiday: it gets hot in the desert in summer, and in winter the water in the Persian Gulf is already cold, dust storms often blow. Moreover, not many companies are promoting this direction, although growth of interest among tourists seems to be possible in the future after the World Cup. The conservative policy of the state regarding drinking of alcoholic beverages and the free expression of feelings in public plays a negative role?
Tourists tend to be conservative, and now that the situation is unstable and uncertain, most travelers opt for already proven options, such as Greece, the Emirates and Egypt. Qatar will not be able to fully replace the UAE, but it will occupy its niche in the market of the general tourist flow to the Middle East, and the World Cup will help this. The sports festival is supposed to destroy stereotypes about the Arab state, and a beautiful picture should impress wealthy foreign fans even against the backdrop of numerous scandals.