World Cup boosts airline bookings

SINGAPORE, 18 October 2022: Flight bookings to Qatar from the 31 countries competing in the football World Cup finals and from the UAE are currently 10 times the volume of pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest analysis by ForwardKeys.

The data is based on issued flight tickets, including day trips, as of 29 September, for travel to Qatar between 14 November and 24 December. 2019 travel is the benchmark, except for the UAE, where the benchmark is 2016, owing to the Qatar diplomatic crisis, which stopped direct flights between Qatar and the UAE between 2017 and 2021.

Regarding growth, the source market set to perform most strongly during the World Cup period is the UAE; currently, bookings are ahead by 103 times the volume of 2016. Mexico follows it, 79 times ahead of the 2019 volume, Argentina ahead by 77 times, Spain ahead by 53 times and Japan ahead by 46 times. A shortage of accommodation in Qatar explains the UAE’s strong showing. Many people are expected to stay in the UAE and take a day return flight on match days. Currently, day trips account for 4% of all arrivals in Qatar during the World Cup, 85% of which originate in the UAE.

Despite the requirement to present a negative Covid-19 test to enter Qatar, the tournament’s popularity is such that there have been millions of searches online for flights to Qatar in the first nine months of the year. Journeys originating in the UAE represent 12% of the total, followed by 12% from the USA, 7% from Spain, 7% from India, 6% from the UK and 6% from Germany.

The tournament is set to benefit the whole Gulf region, as flight bookings to GCC countries during the competition are currently 16% ahead and, for the initial stages, 61% ahead. Further analysis reveals that many World Cup visitors travel to other regional destinations. For example, those staying at least two nights in Qatar and staying at least two more nights in another GCC country are sixteen times greater than before the pandemic in 2019. By far, Dubai is the biggest beneficiary of this trend, capturing 65% of onward visits. The next most popular onward destination is Abu Dhabi, with 14%, followed by Jeddah, 8%, Muscat, 6% and Madinah, 3%. The most important origin market for these “regional tourists” is the USA, which is responsible for 26% of them. It is followed by Canada, with 10%, the UK with 9% and France, Mexico and Spain, each with 5%. For Dubai, the most important component is America, comprising 32%; however, for Abu Dhabi, it is Australia, comprising 11%.

 ForwardKeys VP Insights Olivier Ponti said: “As global events go, the FIFA World Cup is one of the most attractive drivers of travel there is, so much so that other destinations in the Gulf will benefit, not just the host nation, Qatar. In tourism promotion terms, the World Cup will throw a media spotlight on Qatar and help it become a more established destination and not just a major hub for intercontinental air traffic.

Usually, just 3% of travellers to Doha stay in the country, while 97% have onward connections. However, almost 27% of the World Cup has Qatar as the ultimate destination. The UAE will also benefit substantially from the tournament because it has more hotel accommodation than Qatar and two global hub airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.”