A big winner of the World Cup in Qatar: Dubai

DUBAI – The bling capital of the Middle East isn’t hosting the FIFA World Cup, but Dubai still benefits from the region’s tourist flow – its bars are buzzing and its hotels are teeming with football fans.

While neighboring Qatar is grappling with an epic culture clash and the logistics of hosting the event, this relatively more liberal city-state is swamped with supporters who want easy access to a beer, cheaper accommodation and a setting more accustomed to Western tourism.

Thousands of fans have taken up residence in Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, as airlines operate dozens of daily shuttle flights between the two states in a bid to ease Qatar’s housing crisis. Other neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, are also embracing some of the slack with flights from their cities, but these mainly cater to their own residents.

Daily scheduled flights to Doha, Qatar by origin and airport

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai International and Al Maktoum International

King Khalid International

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Daily scheduled flights to Doha, Qatar by origin and airport

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai International and Al Maktoum International

King Khalid International

King Abdulaziz

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Daily scheduled flights to Doha, Qatar, from

Place of origin and airport

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai International and Al Maktoum International

King Khaled

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Daily scheduled flights to Doha, Qatar,

by place of origin and airport

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai International and

Al Maktoum International

King Khalid International

King Abdulaziz

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Daily scheduled flights to Doha, Qatar,

by place of origin and airport

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai International and

Al Maktoum International

King Khalid International

King Abdulaziz

International

Members of The Barry Horns – a marching band that regularly accompanies the Wales national football team – stay in Dubai for the team’s group games and fly to Doha, where they are booked for shows.

The band, whose name pays homage to former Welsh player Barry Horne, played in a bar on Sunday for Dubai Welsh Football Supporters Club, who said they have been forced to enlarge the venue to accommodate fans ahead of the first game of the season teams to accommodate – a draw – against the USA on Monday night.

The Barry Horns thought accommodation in Qatar was expensive and limited, while “the culture over there wasn’t quite in line with the band’s values,” said Gareth Evans, trumpeter. “We’re just big drinkers,” added James Watkins, who plays trumpet and bass.

Alcohol is available in Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country and the first conservative Muslim state to host a World Cup. But beer sales in stadiums were halted at the last minute and western fans were already under the impression alcohol was going to be hard to come by.

Dubai, whose legal system is also based on Islamic law, has been investing in tourist-friendly hotels, bars and restaurants for years. It has in recent years relaxed rules on when and how non-Muslims can buy alcohol, and lined its beaches with trendy pools and clubs for boisterous parties.

The moves are part of a broader push by Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, which includes Abu Dhabi, to boost its standing with foreigners and make it a more attractive place to live in order to spur economic growth. The changes have helped make Dubai a playground for the ultra-rich, most recently in the Netflix television series Dubai Bling, which chronicles the lives of the city’s celebrities.

Fans pay “for a tent on the beach over there or you pay $240 a night for a five-star hotel here,” said American Eddy Ilano, 62, at Dubai’s Al Maktoum Airport, referring to the mixed reviews about accommodation in Qatar.

He’s staying at a hotel on Dubai’s palm-shaped island with friends, and together they’ve planned 26 flights for their entire two-week vacation, including a trip from California to watch five games in Qatar and visit the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza.

Airlines will operate dozens of shuttle flights between Dubai and Qatar every day during the World Cup.


Photo:

Christopher Pike/REUTERS

Not all feeder flights from Dubai on Monday, the first day of several World Cup matches, went smoothly. The flight takes just over an hour, but some arrived late. The beer ran out in one of Dubai’s airport terminals. People on later shuttles drank wine and brandy instead, blaming the beer-drinking England fans who first traveled through the terminal ahead of their game against Iran.

Hundreds of weary Welsh fans returned to Dubai early Tuesday morning after staying up all night for their side’s game against USA, with some complaining of off-ground tube waits and flight delays.

“Could have used just one win,” said Kerry Boycott, who is staying 11 days in an all-inclusive hotel in Dubai rather than Qatar. Together with her husband, she paid a total of about $700 for two flights and two tickets from Dubai.

Many fans have at least one more grueling trip to Doha ahead of them. Those on the shuttle flights must leave Doha within 24 hours or risk a fine. With some games starting at 10pm local time, fans again have to leave in the middle of the night for some games.

Dubai hosts one of six official FIFA fan festivals around the world, alongside Mexico, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, London and Seoul, and fans across the city-state visit unofficial fan zones that can accommodate hundreds or thousands every day.

David Cattanach, the general manager of the Irish Village, a popular pub, shows games on a big screen in a tennis stadium next to his venue. He expects up to 2,000 spectators for the biggest games in the knockout stages. He said every venue in Dubai hopes England – arguably the most supported team in the UAE given the size of the English expatriate population – make progress as bars can then expect a nice windfall.

Adnan Kazim, chief commercial officer at Emirates Airline, Dubai’s flagship airline, said that in November this year 11% more travelers flew to Dubai on the airline than last year, with “significantly higher bookings from football-loving nations such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil , Spain and Mexico.”

Flydubai, which operates the shuttle flights to and from Qatar, flew the Argentina national team to Doha in a plane adorned with a special livery of their players, including star player Lionel Messi.

Hundreds of ultra-rich fans also base their planes in Dubai and travel to and from Doha, according to Adel Mardini, the managing director of a private jet terminal in the emirate.

Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, tweeted that hosting the World Cup in Qatar was “a historic milestone for all Arabs.”

Qatar has spent more money on stadiums and other infrastructure than any other World Cup host country. The WSJ looks at the billion-dollar spending spree that the tiny state hopes will pay off in the long run. Photo: Frank Hörmann/Sven Simon/Zuma Press

The cooperation between the United Arab Emirates and Qatar comes in contrast to just a few years ago, when Abu Dhabi, along with other Middle Eastern capitals, imposed an economic and physical blockade on their Gulf neighbor and accused him of supporting terrorism – an accusation that Doha rejected. The sides restored ties in the past year. Saudi Arabia, which led the boycott of Qatar in 2017, is now siding with the World Cup hosts.

Even as a more liberal Muslim state than Qatar, Dubai has still reminded fans of some of the country’s local rules. In a published visitor’s guide to the World Cup, the emirate’s police warned against using drugs, making public displays of affection and visiting unlicensed massage parlors – places that sometimes offer paid sex.

Kabir Mulchandani, who runs the luxury five-star Hotel Five on Dubai’s palm-shaped island, said bookings plummeted in September as economic headwinds began to hit its biggest markets, Britain and Europe. However, hotel occupancy is now expected to be in excess of 90% for the tournament weeks.

“We’re seeing massive growth… and I can only attribute that to the World Cup,” he said.

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