August 25 – Not just Qatar, but Saudi Arabia will seek to welcome the world this November and December. In a bid to capitalise on the influx of football fans in the Gulf during the World Cup, Saudi Arabia will issue a special 60-day visa for holders of a Hayya card, a fan-id required to enter Qatar.
“Based on our leadership’s intent to facilitate visiting procedures to the kingdom and the Gulf from all over the world, we are pleased to receive ‘Hayya’ cardholders in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” tweeted Saudi Arabia’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Waleed Al-Khuraiji.
Those fans with a Hayya card can obtain an e-visa to visit Saudi Arabia. It will also ease pressure on over-stretched Qatari hospitality options and fears that fans with tickets will be forced into high priced accommodation.
It is another remarkable move from the Saudis after they led a long Gulf blockade against Qatar, which threatened the stability in the region. It’s the first time that the global finals will be staged in an Arab country.
Last month, FIFA announced that 2.45 million tickets have been sold so far for the tournament with a third, last-minute ticket sales phase to come.
Qatar expects around one million visitors during the tournament, but major concerns remain over accommodation for fans with Doha offering a limited array of options. A simple search on the official booking portal of the World Cup suggests that during the peak moment of the first round – between November 24 and November 27 – there are no hotel rooms available below $800 a night.
In an interview with the Qatar News Agency, World Cup Qatar 2022 CEO Nasser Al Khater refuted reports about the high costs of accommodation in Qatar. “This isn’t true,” said Al Khater.
“There are hotel rooms priced not more than $80 per night and there are luxury residences up to $5,478 per night. There are villas, hotels, apartments and camps. New hotels and apartments are added to the platform and accordingly, there is a periodic update on prices and availability.”
Al Khater may claim that organisers are updating their inventory, but that is not reflected by the lengths fans have to go to attend the finals.
A Belgian supporters group will, for example, charter flights from Dubai on match days. Dubai, Muscat, and Riyadh will serve as airline hubs during the tournament with neighbouring countries keen on boosting their own tourism industry.
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