STOCK Dubai Skyline Sheikh Zayed road
Middle East's sports tourism is worth around $600 billion, and hotels across the region want a slice of that action. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Expansion within the Middle East’s sporting calendar has accelerated rapidly since the turn of the century - and shows no signs of abating. Abu Dhabi, for instance, has secured the ‘World’s Leading Sports Tourism Destination’ accolade at the World Travel Awards for nine consecutive years since 2013. In 2012, the trophy went to Dubai.

With sustained investment in its sports and entertainment sector, the UAE’s decade-long winning streak is no accident and it’s indicative of a broader trend that has been materialising in and around the Gulf.

In a hurry to compete

While other regions have continued to reap the rewards of long and proud sporting heritages, the Middle East has been working diligently to create its own, inviting an array of leading franchises and superstars to compete among its glittering desert metropolises. This has presented a golden opportunity for hospitality brands operating in the region because, wherever these household sporting names travel, millions of fans are sure to follow.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is continuing to benefit from increased demand among guests looking to attend and enjoy elite sporting events. At present, our organisation’s development pipeline comprises of 27 upcoming hotels, which will add nearly 4,200 new rooms to our existing portfolio.

But is sports-related tourism really big enough to justify such investment? Well, recent activity and long-term market outlooks certainly suggest that it is. In 2021, sporting championships and tournaments contributed an estimated $2.45 billion to Dubai’s economy alone, and the potential rewards offered by this segment are not limited to the Emirates. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that the value of the Middle East’s sports tourism market is approximately $600 billion at present, and analysts from UAE-based predict that the segment will augment the region’s hospitality economy by up to 30 per cent in Q4-2022.

One of the most exciting regional events on the horizon is, of course, FIFA World Cup Qatar, which is set to bring approximately 1.5 million fans to the host nation and wider Middle East during November and December. This means that an additional 1.5 million tourists will be looking to book flights, hotel rooms, tables in restaurants, and everything else that traditionally accompanies a trip to a global sporting mega-event.

To cater to these unprecedented levels of demand, we bolstered its presence in Qatar by adding a 4th hotel, the newly opened 278-room Wyndham Grand Doha West Bay Beach. In addition to ticket-holding guests, our staff are looking forward to hosting the national teams of Tunisia and Morocco during the tournament.

Not the only game in town

While the FIFA World Cup is certainly an impressive drawcard for Middle East hospitality players, it is by no means the only game in town. The F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a prime example of how major sporting events benefit hospitality operators and the economy as a whole, as an entire tourism and entertainment ecosystem has been built around this annual fixture.

Consider the fact that in 2008, before the chequered flag had been waved at the inaugural race around Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi was home to 65 hotels. In the space of just 10 years, this figure has almost doubled.

Consider similar benefits delivered by the myriad other elite sporting events held across the Middle East. The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, the DP World Tour Championship, the UAE T20 League, the Qatar Open, the Qatar Masters, the Diriyah E-Prix, the Riyadh Dakar Race, the F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the F1 Bahrain Grand Prix… The list goes on and on.

It’s easy to see that the Middle East’s decision to embrace elite sports has already paid dividends. Future prospects appear even more promising, given the region is still in the early stages of its sporting journey compared to many of its international counterparts.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to predict just how big sports-related tourism will become in the Middle East - only time will tell.