What is next for Qatari tourism?

Almost a year on from the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, it seems that the lavish hosting of the World Cup has improved Qatar’s brand image and led to an ongoing increase in tourist arrivals.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Benny Marty

Almost a year has passed since the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicked off at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar. It seems appropriate now to look back at the largest international event that ever took place in Qatar and find out how it affected the country’s tourism in the long term.

The 2022 event was the costliest edition of the World Cup in living memory, as upwards of USD220 billion was spent on various projects since Qatar’s official appointment as the host until the actual inauguration of the games in November, 2022.

The sum was fifteen times more than what was spent on any previous World Cup in history, even after adjusting for inflation and purchasing power parity.

The whole thing was considered to be a monumental risk for all parties involved, given Qatar’s climate, cultural sensitivities, and the sheer scale of construction required.

However, Qatari organizers managed to work their way through a complex 12-year timetable, despite many setbacks.

Upon the tournament’s climactic end and the Argentina’s win, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino hailed Qatar 2022 as the best World Cup in the history of the sport.

It is true that there were criticisms too, but whether you like it or not, Qatar’s hosting and handling of the various challenges was by-and-large a success story.

The excitement of football aside, the experience of hosting the World Cup benefited Qatar in important and potentially long-lasting ways.

For one thing, Qatar 2022 was an experiment in mass tourism.

Qatar has for years tried to establish itself as a travel hub.

Its flag carrier airline, Qatar Airways, owns one of the largest aircraft fleets in the developing world, flying to some 150 destinations across the globe. And, the country had around 40,000 hotel rooms by 2021—a surprisingly large capacity given Qatar’s population (2.7 million).

Though impressive for a country the size of Qatar, these statistics were not enough to meet the demand caused by the World Cup. As such, investment in the hospitality sector was prioritized ahead of the World Cup.

“Qatar could see its hospitality market grow by 89% to over 56,000 hotel keys by 2025,” wrote Zawya.

Looking beyond the World Cup, the hospitality sector was at the time hoping to maintain a high room occupancy rate after 2022.

It was estimated that given an annual tourist arrival of 7 million per year, the Qatari hospitality industry would be worth USD55 billion by 2030 and account for up to 12% of the GDP.

Now, one year onwards, how close has the Gulf country come to actually achieving these?

As of summer 2023, the numbers look good for Qatar. The hotel occupancy rate has remained steadily above 55%, while “Qatar’s hospitality sector witnessed growth in annual revenues in June 2023 as the country saw a rise in visitors and guests,” reported Zawya in late August, 2023.

The hotel occupancy rate is not the only indicator of the sector’s health. In the first half of 2023, Doha’s Hamad International Airport handled just above 20 million passengers.

Admittedly, a large percentage were transit passengers given the hub-and-spoke model of Qatar Airway’s operations, but this number still indicates that by the end of 2023 the set target of 7 million true arrivals will be surpassed.

One may wonder how Qatar is accomplishing all this.

It is partly through planned volunteering and bidding for high-profile events with the potential of attracting international crowds. The highlights of the 2023 lineup of events included Expo 2023 Doha Qatar, Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix, Qatar MotoGP, Qatar’s Masters Golf Championship, The Geneva International Motor Show, the Institute of Travel and Tourism (ITT) conference, and the upcoming AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.

These events may not seem as huge as the World Cup, but collectively they attract a large number of visitors. What makes the country’s hospitality sector even happier is that this way the arrivals are evenly spread out across the calendar months, rather than a single month.

The fact that such high-profile events are willing to decamp to Qatar indicates that the country has been largely successful in establishing its brand image through the hosting of the last year’s World Cup, among other measures.

According to Google Trends, search engine use statistics show that though queries about Qatar spiked between October 2022 and January 2023, they remained higher than the baseline throughout 2023, meaning that the hosting of the World Cup has had a long-lasting impact on promoting the country’s brand.

All that said, it may still be too early to pronounce if the USD220 million cost of Qatar 2022 has been worth it. We should keep an eye on the gulf country and see if it will continue to remain a bedlam of interesting events in 2023-2024.

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