With FIFA World Cup 2022 set to take over Qatar's state-of-the-art stadiums and televisions screens all over the world, we take a deep dive into this new era of sports tourism in the Middle East
On November 20, 2022, Qatar will make history as the first Middle Eastern nation to host the world's most prestigious football tournament. Hundreds of thousands of football fans will descend on the country to watch their favourite footballers fight it out on the field to bring home the coveted FIFA World Cup trophy. The players aside, all eyes will also be set on Qatar as the nation hopes that this mega sporting event will help the country – and the region – to build momentum to ride smoothly into a new era of sports tourism.
The Middle East has long been gaining the world's confidence as a competent host of major global events – a status that was only cemented by Expo 2020 Dubai. In 2004, Bahrain made history as the first Gulf nation to host the Formula One race, with Abu Dhabi following in its footsteps only a few years later in 2009 to host the final lap of the Formula One racing season. Over in Dubai, the emirate has played host to international tennis tournaments, cricket championships, horse races and so much more. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia has also hosted Formula One races as well as horse racing championships, with many more events set to take place within the next decade. Clearly, the region is poised to take off!
Where east meets west
Situated at the crossroads of the east and west, the geographical advantages of the Middle East are well understood. Major metropolises around the region are well connected to the rest of the world via air routes. A majority of visitors from several source markets are only an eight-hour flight away from most Middle Eastern nations.
Complementing the connectivity, the GCC countries are also characterised by their world-class infrastructure, easy access to the latest advancements across all sectors and, most importantly, a youthful, tech-savvy demographic that champions innovative thinking. And it is these attributes that will soon deliver some of the most exciting developments currently taking shape in the realm of tourism.
Following the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup in Doha, the host nation will face Ecuador in the very first match of the season. Over the course of four weeks, a total of 32 nations will compete, with the thrilling finale set for December 18. The event, however, is not just a time for fans of the sport to watch their favourite players in action. For the host nation, the tournament is a chance to showcase its world-class infrastructure and prove its tourism might.
In the lead-up to the event, Qatar has opened a host of hotels to accommodate more than one million international travellers who are set to arrive during the event. Rotana has also expanded its footprint in the country with the opening of two properties in Doha – Bin Al Sheikh Residences by Rotana and Riviera Rayhaan by Rotana in Doha. In fact, the entire country's hospitality industry is on track to help Qatar fulfil its ambitious goal of attracting more than six million international visitors a year by 2030.
There is also a whole host of cultural, retail and entertainment offerings that have been introduced in the country to help visitors make the most of their time. Further infrastructure development is also underway as, beyond the football tournament, the nation hopes to continue attracting more high-calibre sporting events. And while the country will benefit greatly, the excess of visitors will also spill on to the neighbouring countries, giving visitor numbers a boost in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and more.
A packed agenda
While football fever is certainly in the air, it's not just FIFA World Cup that's bringing the world's top sportspeople to the region. The UAE capital is also gearing up for a busy season ahead. And, having won the title of the Middle East’s Leading Sports Tourism Destination for two consecutive years, sports fans expect nothing less!
Kicking the season off in Abu Dhabi is the first-ever NBA Games. Brought to the emirate by the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), the league's first games in the Middle East will see the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks play two pre-season games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island.
In January 2023, the UAE capital will steal the spotlight once again as it hosts the inaugural UAE T20 League, bringing more cricket action to the country, after the Asia Cup cricket tournament just wrapped up in September 2022.
Dubai will put on an equally-worthy event, with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships set to take place in February alongside a buzzing calendar of sporting events. It remains clear that the Middle East is on course to carve a niche in sports tourism, investing more in its infrastructure and manpower to attract more events, and, therefore, contribute to overall tourism.