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Spectacular Dubai will earn on the World Cup in a few minutes of flight | WGN 720 Radio

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The World Cup could draw as many as 1.2 million fans to Qatar, but the vibrant neighboring emirate of Dubai is also looking to capitalize on a major sporting tournament just a short flight away. .

Some soccer fan clubs have already said they will travel to Qatar during the championship on 45-minute flights from Dubai, the skyscraper-studded beach city-state in the United Arab Emirates. Other fans plan to sleep on cruise ships or camp out in the desert amid the feverish rush for rooms in Doha.

Dubai’s airlines, bars, restaurants, shopping malls and other attractions are now hoping to benefit, further helping the tourism industry recover in the crucial autumn and winter months after being hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

“If you can’t stay in Qatar, Dubai is the place you’d most like to go as a foreign tourist,” said James Swanston, Middle East and North Africa expert at Capital Economics. “Somewhere is safe, somewhere more liberal from the point of view of Western norms. This is the most attractive place.”

Dubai is now home to the world’s tallest building, cavernous shopping malls — including one with an indoor ski slope — and a thriving nightclub scene. Dubai has experienced explosive growth, fueled by the boom and bust of the real estate market, which has transformed the former pearl village over the past 20 years.

Its long-haul carrier, Emirates, has helped make Dubai International Airport the world’s busiest for international travel and provides a steady flow of new visitors who stay for stopovers or longer. And while Dubai is still an autocratic sheikhdom like its other Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf, it has a relatively more liberal outlook on drinking and nightlife.

In the lead-up to the tournament, concerns about hotel room space and high prices for affordable rooms have been behind Qatar, which lacks hotels for all the teams, workers, volunteers and fans at the World Cup. So Doha set up campsites and cabins, chartered cruise ships and encouraged fans to stay in neighboring countries and fly there for the games.

Qatar estimated it would have 45,000 hotel rooms for the tournament.

Surrounding countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia also believe they could see a surge in visitors – even though Bahrain is the only one among them to allow alcohol. Even Iran proposed a few months ago to develop plans to accommodate World Cup tourists on the island of Kish. Apparently, nothing came of this idea, and now the Islamic Republic is engulfed in nationwide protests.

Meanwhile, Dubai has more than 140,000 hotel rooms, easily among the world’s top 10 destinations for the number of rooms available, said Philip Wooler, senior director of STR, a hotel industry monitor. Dubai also offers price ranges greater than what Qatar currently can, given the demand, he said.

“I think Dubai is an incredibly eclectic city,” Wooler said. “You can buy a room for $100 or you can buy a room for $5,000.”

Still, he added, he expects “Qatar will be able to host the majority of fans coming to the World Cup (but) Dubai will struggle.”

Dubai seems all set to take advantage of the tournament.

Its low-cost carrier, FlyDubai, is planning 30 round-trip flights a day during the World Cup, taking fans from Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport to Dubai World Central, or DWC, in the city-state’s southern region of Doha. International Airport, the old main airport of Qatar.

Other airlines that may use Al Maktoum Airport include KLM, Qatar Airways and Wizz Air, while private jets will also fly from there for the tournament, said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports. This could help boost the profile of the airfield, which Dubai hopes to expand in the future as Dubai International Airport nears capacity.

“It’s great for us to see DWC suddenly so busy ahead of the World Cup,” he said. “It will allow the airport to be convenient for so many people that (airlines) will actually prefer to operate from there.”

The expected economic boost from the FIFA World Cup for Dubai comes after it was hit hard by the pandemic. It has spent billions on its delayed Expo 2020 world exhibition, which has already attracted a large number of visitors to the UAE.

Dubai, like most of the world, was shut down in early 2020. However, in July of the same year, he announced that he was reopening to tourists. Although Dubai faced a wave of international criticism when cases spread from the emirate a few months later, around the New Year, Dubai and the rest of the UAE widely distributed vaccines.

The UAE dropped its mandatory mask policy about a month ago.

“Dubai is on many people’s radars as one of the most phenomenal places to visit,” said Dennis McGettigan, CEO of the eponymous Irish bar empire in Dubai and elsewhere. “And I think the World Cup added a layer” of wanting to visit.

McGettigan said sales at his bars were already up 40% compared to 2019, which he attributed to pent-up demand for socializing after the worst days of the virus. He said he is overstaffed at his venues and expects strong business through the tournament.

But McGettigan and others acknowledged that Dubai faces difficulties in attracting World Cup tourists — the strong U.S. dollar. The Emirati dirham has long been pegged to the dollar, making a trip to Dubai more expensive for those using British pounds, euros and other currencies.

Other financial dangers also lie in wait for a tourist-dependent Dubai built on the promise of globalization.

“We still need to be wary of global economic pressures, including rising interest rates, high oil and commodity prices, supply chain issues, which are creating inflationary pressures that could weigh on Dubai’s economic recovery,” said Sapna Jagtiani of S&P Global Ratings.

McGettigan doesn’t expect that to be too much of a damper. His firm is also organizing a massive fan zone in the grassy expanses of Dubai Media City, complete with live music, massive TVs and even a winter-themed zone in Dubai’s desert surroundings.

“I, for one, am very happy to see things coming back full steam ahead and a little bit more,” he said.


Associated Press writer Isabelle Debray in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


Follow John Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.


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