Qatar world cup shuttle flights set to buoy Gulf tourism
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Qatar world cup shuttle flights set to buoy Gulf tourism

Qatar world cup shuttle flights set to buoy Gulf tourism

The shuttle service will initially connect Doha with Dubai, Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait City

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Fans who want to watch this year’s football World Cup in person won’t need to stay the night in Qatar.

Qatar Airways on Thursday announced partnerships with Gulf carriers to set up match-day shuttle flights between Doha and major Middle Eastern cities for fans to attend games and depart Doha the same day. The move will alleviate concerns over lack of affordable accommodation in Qatar and benefit regional tourism hubs, including Dubai.

The shuttle service will initially connect Doha with Dubai, Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait City. Qatar Airways plans to add more flights across the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in the future. The World Cup starts in November, and runs for a month.

The schedule will initially include 30 daily return flights between Dubai and Doha, operated by flydubai, and 24 between Doha and Muscat, operated by Oman Air. Saudia will operate 20 flight rotations to Riyadh and Jeddah, while Kuwait Airways will connect Doha to Kuwait City with 10 return flights.

About 1.5 million fans, a little more than half the population of Qatar, are expected to descend upon the tiny Gulf state during the event, leading to concerns about the availability and cost of hotel rooms.

The local organising committee has promised affordable accommodation, capping prices at hotels and hiring cruise ships. The committee has rented residences across the country to meet demand, and landlords are forcing many local residents to vacate long-term rentals to make room for visitors.

“By choosing to book a match-day shuttle flight, fans will arrive in the morning and depart in the evening, with no hotel accommodation required,” Qatar Airways said. “Additionally, a no check-in baggage policy will simplify an easy-in, easy-out travel itinerary for the passengers.”

‘A win for the region’

The shuttle service makes good on Qatar’s pitch to host a World Cup that would benefit countries across the Gulf. “The landscape of this tournament gives us the opportunity to spread the business with various regional airlines,” Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker said in a statement. “We have always believed that a win for Qatar is a win for the region.”

As an already established tourist hub with 113,000 hotel rooms at the end of 2021, Dubai may play an outsised role in hosting fans. The city recently played host to Expo 2020 exhibition, drawing in millions of visitors.

“Having recently hosted a global event in Dubai, we know first-hand the positive impact such events have not only on the travel and hospitality sectors, but also on the wider economy,” flydubai CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith said. FlyDubai is a sister company of long-haul carrier Emirates.

The new flights could also be a boon to other countries eager to build their tourism profiles among global travellers. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman eased visa rules in 2019 to draw foreign visitors, but was quickly stymied by the coronavirus. Oman is hoping to turn tourism into a $23bn industry by 2040, up from $3bn in 2019.

Regional tourism is also poised to benefit. The Saudi soccer team’s qualification might whet its nationals’ desire to attend, and could boost overall visitor expectations. The UAE team still has a chance to qualify if it beats Australia next month.

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