Atif Karimuddin (left) and fans from the UAE soak up the FIFA excitement in Russia Image Credit: Supplied

DUBAI: Over 12,000 UAE football fans will head to Russia to watch the FIFA World Cup 2018 over the course of 30 days, according to local travel agencies. The tournment begins on June 14 with the final taking place on July 15.

“For the first time, five Middle Eastern countries - Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran - are taking part in the tournament. They have a huge representation in the UAE which explains why so many people are going from here,” said Athul Hari, lead sports travel agent at Dadabhai Travels. “We’ve been selling FIFA packages for over two years now and nearly 6,500 individuals have booked the hospitality package with us,” he added. According to Hari, Dadabhai Travels is the only agency authorised to sell FIFA VIP hospitality passes in the region

Brisk sales

Riyaz Ahmad, manager – MICE and Holidays, The Kanoo Group, a total of 100 packages have been sold by the agency in the last 100 days. “We have seen a massive response from fans in the UAE. Typically, we have seen people booking for three nights and four days,” he said.

Similarly Tajawal and Saudi-based online travel agency AlMosafer.com reported a huge interest from fans in Saudi Arabia, followed by the UAE and Kuwait. “Till now 400 regional fans have booked through us,” said Mohammad Chbib, head of Al Tayyar’s Strategic Online Business Unit that looks after the two entities in the Middle East.

Sharaf Travels expects many late bookings. “We’ve designed a package which includes two nights’ hotel stay in St. Petersburg, a night’s stay in Moscow, two semi-final match tickets for July 10 and 11 in St. Petersburg and Moscow for Dh21,516 including airport transfers and flight tickets,” said Premjit Bangara, general manager, Sharaf Travels.

Sophia Tamang, head of business strategy, AFC Holidays, said the travel agency has sold out its packages. “Priced Dh8,980 per person on twin-sharing basis, the package includes one group match ticket, airfare and hotel accommodation for two nights and three days.”

Fan frenzy

Indian expat Dinete Thomas, 24, a sales accountant for tajawal.com said he booked his ticket in September last year. “I am going for the Round of 16 game between Group A runners up and Group B winners which will be played on July 1. I am hoping it will be Spain vs Egypt or with the host – Russia.”

Saudi Khawla Bantella, finance controller for a hospitality group in Ajman, is travelling along with her friends to watch the first match, Russia vs Saudi Arabia. “We are a group of 10 people including Russians, Emiratis and Indians. It is a proud moment for me to watch Saudi Arabia play on the international level after 12 years,” she said.

Brazilian expat Thais will attend the Brazil vs Switzerland match on June 17 and on July 14 for the third place decider. “I’m travelling twice – from June 15-19 and from July 13-15. I booked my tickets two months ago,” said the 29-year-old.

Atif Karimuddin, who works for a business consultancy in Saudi Arabia, is travelling with 50 friends who will join him from Dubai and Istanbul to watch the first game. “We’ve been planning this for over four months and finally the day is here. A lot of my friends are already in Moscow and I can’t wait to be with them at the stadium, cheering for our home country,” he said in a phone interview to XPRESS.