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FIFA World Cup 2022 will score big for Qatar. But is it ready for a million fans?

In an exclusive interview, Berthold Trenkel, COO of Qatar Tourism, tells us how the mega sporting event will be crucial to raise tourism to 12% of the country’s GDP and attract over six million visitors a year by 2030.

FIFA World Cup 2022 will score big for Qatar. But is it ready for a million fans?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

With just 96 days to go for the region’s biggest sporting event, Berthold Trenkel seems quite relaxed as he sits down to share Qatar Tourism’s goals for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and beyond. Much like the sport, hosting the FIFA World Cup is competitive—from winning the bid marked by cut-throat competition to renovating the country’s infrastructure to house and entertain millions worldwide. 

Orchestrating a mega sporting event involves big bucks. In 2008, China spent approximately $40 billion to host the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing; Russia spent roughly $50 billion in 2014 for the Sochi Winter Games; Brazil’s total expenditure rose to $20 billion for the World Cup. Qatar, the host of the World Cup 2022, will spend some $220 billion to host nearly 1.5 million visitors this November. 

The worth of such an investment will go on in its aftermath, creating a ripple effect on tourism that will continue to reverberate, months and years after the showdown.

The worth of such investment can only be measured in the effects of tourism, which will go on years after the showdown. 

“The legacy of the FIFA World Cup will play an important role as our goal is to raise tourism to 12% of GDP by 2030. Further, we aim to increase visitors’ in-destination spend by three- to four-fold from 2019 levels to position Doha as one of the top 20 cities for tourists and make Qatar a global leader in service excellence,” says Berthold Trenkel, COO of Qatar Tourism.

Hosting has its apparent benefits and challenges. Qatar, the first country in the Middle East to host a World Cup, has received criticisms. Social media is rife with questions regarding its capability to pull off such an event. Yet, the country’s tourism arm has sought to innovate—from the unique design of stadiums to one-of-a-kind hotels. 

BILLIONS SPENT TO HOST MILLIONS

There is a multilayered approach to the effort to host fans in Qatar. Addressing the pressing concerns of how the peninsular nation will host millions of football fans, Trenkel says, “The accommodation for fans is made up of traditional 2-5 star hotel rooms, temporarily moored cruise ships, known as ‘floating hotels,’ serviced apartments and villas, and desert camps.” 

He explains key investments in recent years furnished Qatar’s abilities to serve millions. In 2019, Qatar signed a deal with MSC Cruises to lease two cruise liners and provide 4,000 cabins during the tournament. In October 2021, the Supreme Committee signed an agreement with Europe’s hospitality operator Accor to provide 10,000 staff to manage and operate more than one million fans across 60,000 apartments and villas during the tournament. 

Each stadium has been designed to showcase aspects of Qatar’s culture and heritage, and built keeping in mind sustainability and the event’s legacy. Take, for instance, Stadium 974’s design inspiration, drawn from Qatar’s long association as a trade hub, the Al Bayt Stadium’s nomadic tent facade, or how the Al Janoub Stadium’s design is based on the city’s pearl diving history. Each of the eight stadiums boasts a unique concept. 

“All eight stadiums for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 have been completed, while Qatar has completed more than 95% of infrastructure projects ahead of the tournament,” Trenkel says. 

Qatar Tourism has also ensured the stadiums are accessible for fans via several modes of transport, including metro, trams, buses, and tournament-specific shuttle services.

CREATING A SPORTING DESTINATION 

Trenkel says that fans can eliminate the hassle of internal flights and attend more than one match a day. “Unlike previous FIFA World Cups, all the stadiums in Qatar are within easy reach of one another. The longest distance is 75 km by road, while the shortest is just 5 km, meaning fans will be able to attend more than one match a day during the group stage and stay in the same accommodation throughout the entire tournament.” 

Lesser travel comes with its pros. This will mean no internal flights for fans once they arrive in-country, reducing carbon emissions and cost while increasing convenience, he adds.

With a reduction in travel time to matches, Trenkel hopes fans will take advantage of their time in Qatar’s visiting the traditional and bustling Souq Waqif, museums and art galleries, the range of restaurants, the beaches, and enjoy water sports.

Over time, tourism has furnished the country with enough activities for all age groups. Qatar packs cultural and adventure sports into one small coastal peninsula, “where everything is within easy reach,” says Trenkel.

“We hope all visitors, including those coming for the FIFA World Cup, enjoy the warm welcome they will receive from Qatar’s friendly locals. We also want them to soak up our stunning beaches, rich culture, and bustling atmosphere,” he adds.

One of the biggest projects Trenkel is looking forward to is the completion of a new Grand Cruise terminal at the Doha Port, located in the center of the capital. It will offer “unparalleled connectivity to the city’s most prominent attractions,” including the Corniche, the Museum of Islamic Art, the National Museum of Qatar, Msheireb Downtown, and the traditional standing market Souq Waqif.

CATALYST FOR QATAR’S LONG-TERM GOALS

Given that the World Cup, much like Expo 2020 Dubai, will have an overall positive impact on the Arab world, Trenkel says the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will catalyze Qatar’s long-term tourism goals. “This is our opportunity to showcase our world-famous hospitality.” 

An extensive tourism development strategy is underway, including the construction of many new resorts, hotels and hotel apartments to meet the needs of every budget and traveler.

With eyes on the prize of sustainable growth, he says, “Qatar has ensured that developments, including the new football stadiums, offer sustainable growth and will continue to have a purpose beyond the 2022 tournament.”

In terms of tourism infrastructure development, the scope of Qatar’s plans extends far beyond the World Cup. Qatar Tourism wants to position the country as the top destination for sporting events and MICE, as well as for vacations, adventure holidays and stopover breaks.

“Ultimately, we want to attract over six million visitors a year by 2030,” says Trenkel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East who writes on tech, design, and culture. More

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