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Dubai (AFP) – The FIFA World Cup fever began sweeping Dubai about two months before the whistle of the global football wedding, as the wealthy emirate, the boom of tourism in the Gulf region, prepares to make gains from holding the World Cup in the neighboring state of Qatar.
The emirate is counting on the short distance with Doha and its advanced service sector, hotels and the most open social laws in the Gulf, to attract fans who will have to travel and return at every match they want to attend.
Fans will be able to easily travel between the countries of the region and Qatar, as Saudi, Kuwait, Fly Dubai and Oman Air will operate more than 160 daily flights, starting from November 20, the date of the World Cup, to return and return within 24 hours.
Ten weeks before the World Cup, sports agencies and specialized companies in Dubai began selling packages to fans that include attending matches in Doha and then returning to the emirate on one of the flights.
For Dubai-based Expat Sport, which offers similar sports packages, the main factor for choosing the emirate is “convenience” thanks to “there are round trips between the two cities, and it takes only one hour.”
In a letter to AFP, the company said that many “would like to take advantage of this opportunity to visit the two countries. Internationally everyone knows Dubai and there will be a lot of football-related activities in the city.”
Special areas have been announced for fans in various parts of Dubai, including a theme park for football fans in the Dubai International Financial Centre, as well as luxury restaurants.
Gas-rich Qatar expects 1.4 million people to visit during the World Cup, but many fans complain about the limited availability of accommodation in the small, conservative emirate, as well as the ban on alcohol and the crackdown on gays.
On the other hand, the UAE has been constantly amending its laws in recent years and is presenting itself as an open force in a conservative region. Among the changes are lifting the ban on singles living together, easing restrictions on alcohol, and granting long-term visas.
Tourism is the lifeline of Dubai’s economy, known for its luxury hotels and resorts, and received about 16 million tourists in 2019, compared to about 5.51 million in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic and 7.3 million last year.
Capital Economics economist James Swanston believes that Dubai “compared to other Gulf cities, has an advantage due to its position as a major tourist destination.”
This “may remove some of the barriers for tourists to choose a destination because they know if they have traveled to Dubai before, and also because they have relatively relaxed social standards in terms of certain aspects of culture such as alcohol consumption and dress codes,” he told AFP.
The issue of alcoholic beverages has sparked controversy in Qatar, especially since the consumption of alcohol in public places is prohibited, and visitors are not allowed to bring it into the country, but they can only get it in some hotel bars and restaurants.
It is reported that more than 90 percent of Dubai’s 3.3 million residents are foreigners.
In this context, the Dubai Sports Council expects hundreds of thousands of fans to reside in the emirate during the tournament, which runs until December 18.
And this week, in a statement published by local newspapers, he considered that the UAE “will be a favorite destination for nearly a million spectators who have booked tickets to attend matches and who have decided to reside in Dubai and a number of cities in the country to enjoy the period between matches,” without additional details.
In an attempt to attract the largest number of visitors, the UAE announced that holders of the “Haya” card, which is intended for World Cup fans, will obtain an entry visa and stay in the UAE for a period of up to ninety days for only 100 dirhams ($27), with the possibility of an extension for an additional 90 days.
Shuttle flights between Dubai and Doha also make it easier for residents in the UAE to attend the matches without the need to stay overnight in the neighboring country.
Among them is Firas Yassine, who has always dreamed of attending a football match for his favorite team, France, during the World Cup. After facing great difficulties in obtaining tickets, he was shocked by another thing, which is the high hotel prices in Doha.
The 34-year-old Lebanese-French resident in Dubai told AFP that he decided to go with his wife on the day of the match on November 26 to Doha, arriving five hours before the start of the confrontation between France and Denmark, and leaving a few hours later.
He added that he would “explore the city, and then I will watch my favorite team’s match, and then I will go home” in Dubai.
© 2022 AFP
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