On December 02, 2010, FIFA announced that Qatar had been awarded the opportunity to host the 2022 World Cup, beating out the United States in the fourth and final round of voting by the organization’s 22-member executive committee. As the first World Cup event ever to be held in the Middle East, eyebrows began to raise concerning the tiny Gulf nation’s ability to pull off such an extraordinary opportunity. Even Qatari authorities themselves described the country’s bid as “a bold gamble.” But with over 200 billion dollars in promised investments in infrastructure and new facilities, Qatar was confident that it could make the event a success.
In the decade following the award announcement, Qatar set out to turn itself into a capable host for the World Cup – an event only rivaled globally by the summer Olympics. However, questions soon mounted over whether the scoring temperatures experienced by Gulf countries in the northern hemisphere summer months when the World Cup typically takes place would become a hazard for fans and players alike. To alleviate this concern, Qatari organizers and FIFA agreed to move the 2022 event to the winter season, shifting the tournament from its traditional time frame of June and July to the more regionally reasonable November and December months.
Not wanting to take any chances with the weather, Qatar has still invested billions of dollars in creating new technologies to cool the eight stadiums where tournament matches will take place this winter. Supported by the Qatar Foundation’s Qatar National Research Fund, project lead Dr. Saud Ghani was so successful in his creative approaches to the gargantuan task of lowering the ambient temperatures in the stadiums that he was given the nickname ” Dr. Cool” by his peers and colleagues.
“There is no doubt that designing air conditioning for an open-air stadium was a big challenge for everyone – the designers, the engineers, the architects and the contractors,” said Dr. Ghani. “The biggest design houses in the world had never designed an air-conditioned stadium before, so really, it was left to us. It was our challenge and we needed to solve it. And with sustainability, modularity and functionality in mind, we did it.”
In addition to being the first World Cup event in the challenging environment of the Middle East, the 2022 event will also take advantage of the tiny emirate’s small size by being the most geographically compact World Cup since the tournament began in 1930. With all stadiums being within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of Doha, the longest distance between stadiums will be 55 kilometers (35 miles) while the shortest will only be 4.5 kilometers (3 miles).
When Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014, on the other hand, the two closest stadiums were nearly 340 kilometers (211 miles) apart while the farthest were over 3,140 kilometers (1,951 miles) from one another. While this forced fans, players, teams, and officials to deal with more complex logistics, it surely relieved some pressure on the hospitality scene in each stadium location, especially within the hotels sector.
However, in a country whose entire length and width only measure 160 kilometers (100 miles) by 90 kilometers (56 miles) respectively, and with over 90% of its population living in the capital city, the compact nature of both the nation and the 2022 tournament has recently raised a new challenge for Qatar – how it will accommodate the holders of the 3 million tickets that are expected to be distributed to match attendees.
That number – 3 million – is nearly ten times the number of all Qatari citizens, and roughly equal to the total number of residents in Qatar when foreign workers are counted. However, the Qatar Tourism Authority estimated that by the end of 2021 there were still only 33,208 hotel rooms in the entire country.
According to real estate consultancy firm Cushman & Wakefield, the total number of hotel rooms in Qatar is only expected to reach up to 45,000 by the time to World Cup kicks off in November. Even with several thousand cabins expected to be made available on cruise ships docked in Doha, the creation of unique “fan villages,” the use of home-sharing sites such as Airbnb, the completion of new hotel properties, and the turnover of a staggering 60,000 government-owned residential apartments and villas to be temporarily managed by Accor for World Cup visitors, it is still difficult to imagine how Qatar will even quadruple the number of rooms available to visitors, much less 10x that number so quickly.
But Qatar does have one more trick up its sleeve to overcome this latest problem, and it’s one that also has to do with its unique geography – the very close proximity of its neighbors.
Within about a one-hour flight of Doha lie the capital cities of five other wealthy Arab states, including Riyadh, Kuwait City, Manama, Abu Dhabi, and Muscat, in addition to other major metropolitan cities such as Dubai and Dammam. In fact, the entire country of Bahrain, with its nearly 20,000 hotel rooms, is no more than 140 kilometers (90 miles) from Doha, and Dubai’s more than 140,000 rooms are an easily commutable 380 kilometers (236 miles) away by air.
In fact, this regionally focused support strategy appears to have been in the minds of Qatari officials and organizers all along. The country’s aviation authority has authorized over 180 daily shuttle flights to nearby destinations on regional air carriers, and the tourism authorities of neighboring countries are already forecasting near-100% local occupancy rates during the upcoming tournament.
Early critics who were unfamiliar with the scale and interconnectedness of the Gulf region largely overlooked this wider base of hosting resources within spitting distance of Doha, just as they underestimated the local engineering and tech talent that Qatar knew it already had to help solve its stadium temperature problem and other obvious challenges.
With Middle Eastern countries in a league of their own and only competing amongst themselves to build the world’s tallest buildings and largest malls, tame the planet’s elements with indoor ski slopes and massive temperature-controlled stadiums, and host the world’s largest events such as the recent World Expo in Dubai and the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, perhaps it’s time for the rest of the world to finally stop doubting the ambitions and potential of Arab countries and embrace the region’s status as the new “it” place for destination events and tourism.