Tuesday 20 September 2022

How tiny Qatar plans to house a million fans during the World Cup

Qatar is expected to welcome a sizable contingent of guests this winter when it becomes the smallest nation ever to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world -- the FIFA World Cup.

The Gulf nation predicts that over one million fans will travel to Doha over the duration of the World Cup; that's around 37% of its population of 2.7 million. The country is only around 4,400 square miles in size or roughly the size of Jamaica.

Previous tournament hosts have faced several logistical issues in dealing with a large number of traveling fans -- ranging from transport to accommodation. The country's small size may have some advantages, but the challenges are plenty too.

An aerial view of Ahmad Bin Ali stadium at sunset in Al Rayyan, Qatar.

Already, there are reports of rising costs and a lack of suitable accommodation. For example, there are 21 properties available on online travel agency Booking.com for the first three nights of the tournament, with prices starting at $1,000 per night and rising to a whopping $51,000.

This isn't uncommon though. Reports from 2006 claim hotel prices spiked in Berlin and Frankfurt when Germany hosted the tournament. Prior to organizing the 2010 edition, South Africa was plagued by reports of unfinished training camps, while hotels were accused of hiking prices during the World Cup period.

"Our objective has always been providing fair and reasonable pricing for visiting fans," a spokesperson for Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SCDL) told CNN. "We work closely with key stakeholders to ensure affordable pricing across all types of accommodation."

Host nations have often found innovative ways to house fans, and Qatar is no different.

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, residents living in the iconic favela slums opened their doors to tourists, renting beds, rooms, and even entire houses. Some travelers got creative and opted to stay in sex motels usually reserved for Brazilians looking to hook up after a night on the town.

Here's what Qatar has thought of to house the potentially million-strong football fans:

If you can't build them, sail them -- luxury cruise ships

Two luxury cruise ships will be moored at Doha's port for the entirety of the World Cup. Between them, they have nine pools, 3,898 cabins, 45 bars, and 10 fine dining options. Other facilities include a spa, tennis courts, and the world's largest dry slide at sea.

Worried you'll need to look your best for a group stage fixture between Japan and Costa Rica? Fear not, you'll have access to a barber shop and beauty salon.

The ships are a 10-minute shuttle ride to the center of Doha but staying in one of the spacious cabins will not be cheap. They should range from $605 to $2,779 per night -- though that's a snip compared to some of the other options available to ticketholders, considering it includes a buffet breakfast.

A home away from home -- apartments and villas

Qatar Accommodation Agency, the official supplier of lodging for the event, aims to make 100,000-130,000 rooms available on any given night of the 28-day tournament.

There are already listings for ticketholders for one to six-bedroom apartments and villas, with prices for ticketholders ranging from $84 to $875 per night. Most are easily accessible by public transport and the villas are fully equipped with kitchens, washing machines, pools, and gyms.

This accommodation, like others provided by the Accommodation Agency, will be rented out on a first-serve basis, via a staggered release in line with FIFA's ticketing phases or in packages provided by Qatar Airways.

On top of official accommodation, it will provide a booking platform similar to Airbnb for residents to rent out their homes to traveling fans. By applying for a license from Qatar Tourism, residents or owners of buildings can also list their apartments on other portals, such as Airbnb.

The festival experience -- fan villages

Ticketholders can purchase accommodation at so-called fan villages; described as "casual camping and cabin-style accommodations." At a cost of $207 a night, the small, basic converted portacabins are pricey, and only offer a kettle, fridge, and two bottles of water per day. They are dotted on the outskirts of Doha, the furthest being 25 miles from the airport. There will be a number of food and entertainment options available on site, but details about those have not been made available yet.

Desert camping, the Arabian way -- Bedouin-style tents

The camping option is not yet available on the official accommodation website, but the head of accommodation at the SC, Omar Al-Jaber, has said he plans to pitch 1,000 "Bedouin style" tents in the desert during the tournament. 

Around 200 of those will be classified as "luxury" and cost an "expensive" fee, providing an "authentic" experience for fans, Al-Jaber told Reuters. They will have air conditioning to protect fans from the cold desert nights and sweltering morning heat.

If all else fails, sleep in a different country

Accommodation in Qatar is expected to be so limited that the country has opted to house ticketholders in neighboring nations and fly them in and out on short flights every day.

Qatar Airways announced in May that it had partnered with regional carriers to launch 160 extra daily return flights at "competitive prices" that will shuttle fans from Dubai, Jeddah, Kuwait, Muscat, and Riyadh. There will be no baggage check-in facilities to speed up the transfers and dedicated transportation services will be made available to get fans from the airport to stadiums.

It will also be possible to drive from cities like Riyadh, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, all of which are under seven hours away.

(Source: CNN)

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