STOCK Dubai skyline economy DWTC Trade centre
Whether booking a flight or deciding on a hotel stay, everything over the last two years tended to be done at the last possible minute. Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: The Fifa World Cup is still another six months away, but that is not stopping hotels in Dubai - and the UAE - planning to catch some of the travel-and-stay action from the games happening in Qatar. That and all the action that will take place in the UAE could be setting up one massive fourth quarter rush for the hospitality industry. That, clearly, is the goal.

UAE hotels expect football fans - or a good number of them - to stay in the country before or after travelling to Qatar for the matches. The World Cup will have its first game on November 21 and the final on December 18.

Already, advance airline ticket bookings for November and December are seeing some significant spikes, in particular for marquee match-ups at the World Cup. The rush for hotel bookings in Dubai and the rest of UAE could start any time after summer, or even earlier.

Alexander Suski, acting CEO at Ishraq Hospitality, which operates the Crowne Plaza Jumeirah among eight properties in Dubai, is adopting a wait-and-watch approach. “It will be great to see people travel to Qatar and extend their visit in Dubai,” said Suski.

Alexander Suski, acting CEO at Ishraq Hospitality Image Credit: Supplied

“July and August have as yet not shown any large or incremental volumes (in bookings) due to the World Cup as yet. It can still change closer to the time. A trend that has impacted hospitality significantly in the past two years are last-minute bookings.”

A Covid legacy

Whether booking a flight or deciding on a hotel stay, everything over the last two years tended to be done at the last possible minute since travel plans were liable to change at any given moment because of the pandemic and the multiple waves that accompanied it.

These habits formed during these two years are hard to break, but travellers will shed them sooner than later. The Eid travel trends clearly show that changes are taking place, and by the fourth quarter hotels and airlines will be hoping for a complete reset of how travellers make their plans.

Arabian Travel Market is ready for kick-off
The trends in the travel and tourism industry will provide all the talking points as Dubai opens the doors on the 29th Arabian Travel Market. The theme is fitting enough for the times we live in - ‘The future of international travel and tourism’.

“This year the forum is happening at a time when the world is increasingly looking to take a leaf out of Dubai’s successful tourism recovery strategy,” said Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

Plus, of course, highlight a “multifaceted offering that plays a pivotal role in ensuring Dubai remains at the forefront of the world’s leading and safe travel destinations”.

The Covid concerns are receding for the travel industry, but there are other concerns that are bubbling up, not least the cost of travel as fuel price increases stalk airlines. These too will be talked about at the ATM 2022, ahead of the peak summer travel season.
Stock - Issam Kazim
Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing

A Q4-22 bonanza

“The fourth quarter is expected to be a peak in Dubai due to various reasons and not just the World Cup,” said Suski. “Dubai is hosting/facilitating a significant number of events during this period, with over 30 events at the DWTC alone.

“If we combine this with the World Cup matches in Qatar and the potential additional thousands of travellers coming to enjoy Dubai, we can expect strong demand. We predict occupancies would remain similar to Q4-2021 and hotel rates will also be low.”

Last December and January benefitted from the Expo run, with hotels recording uber-healthy 80 per cent plus occupancies right up to the end of the event in March.

New hotel development wave?

The last two years have been about completing existing hotel and hotel apartment projects in the UAE, with developers baulking at new commitments given the Covid-created uncertainties for the industry. The emphasis was on completing existing projects, and the six months of the Expo provided a platform to welcome new hotels. There were quite a few, including the new Paramount from Damac, the Premier Inn, while Ishraq had two openings last year. In Abu Dhabi, there were some heavy consolidation moves happening in the hotel space, with blue-chip entity Alpha Dhabi picking up existing hotels and resorts.

So, how soon will developers get started on new projects? It is already happening in Ras Al Khaimah, where Dubai Investments will build a Dh1 billion resort, and in Ajman, where India’s Oberoi Group has just confirmed its second resort project at the Al Zorah development.

When will Dubai’s next round of hotel projects get underway? The District 2020 - which is what the Expo site will become - is a prime location for more hotels once businesses start moving into the purpose-built offices there.

“District 2020 is the top new destination, no doubt about that, and so will be Dubai South itself,” said a developer. “The Expo was just a taster for how that part of the city will be - once the Al Maktoum International has more services, it will set off the need for a new round of hotels.” Meanwhile, existing hotels have all the time to prepare for the FIFA World Cup and more.