Inflated travel fares, few rooms: Ahead of Qatar kick-off, football fans’ options are limited

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Football fans have a reputation for going to great lengths to support their teams. But, even by their standards, planning a trip for this year’s World Cup in Qatar turned out to be an unprecedented adventure.

Airfares two or three times higher than usual, hotel rooms that can cost hundreds of dollars a night and the prospect of making the United Arab Emirates their base for flying back and forth between the two countries for matches – what projected as the “most accessible” World Cup is turning into a logistical nightmare for fans.

Qatar’s unique appeal as a host country – all eight stadiums are located in and around the capital Doha, less than an hour away – has contributed to 1.8 million ticket sales as of June 29 , with the last sale period beginning on July 5. And even though India did not come close to qualifying for the tournament from November 21 to December 18, the country is among the top 10 ticket buyers.

“In 2018, Moscow only had two stadiums and yet there were nights when the whole city was sold out,” says Akarsh Sharma, a business executive from Gurgaon who had traveled to Russia to watch the match. World Cup. “Here we are talking about a country smaller than Delhi-NCR which will host the entire tournament.”

Sharma has spent Rs 1.3 lakh on a series of tickets which will give him access to seven matches across all rounds, from the group stage to the final. But he still hasn’t found a place to live. He is not the only one.

With the unequal ratio of supply and demand, combined with the fact that 80% of the total accommodation inventory is sold through a centralized system managed by the organizing committee, finding accommodation is neither easy nor affordable.

In December, the AP news agency reported that the organizers had reserved a large part of the rooms for players and officials from the 32 teams, representatives of world football’s governing body FIFA, tournament sponsors and international media.

This left overseas fans with very limited options. In a statement to The Indian Express, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – in charge of staging the World Cup – said “the host country will provide up to 1,30,000 rooms, equivalent to at 3.6 million room nights, for the million-plus fans who are expected to travel for the tournament”, and added that “more choices will be available in due course”.

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Rates per night for a hotel or apartment start at $80 for two people and go up into the thousands, but with the country lacking rooms, organizers have been forced to seek creative solutions.

So the luxury cruise liners docked in the bay have been converted into hotels, with cabins up to $800 per night. And tents, starting at just over $200 a night, have been pitched in the deserts as camping options.

All reservations made through the official platform require a minimum stay of two nights. Rooms through popular hotel aggregators are already sold out and homestay options, through websites like Airbnb, cost around Rs 1.73 lakh per night on average.

The other option, to stay with a relative or friend who lives in Qatar, is not hassle-free either. The person living in Qatar will need to register with the organizers and share details of their ownership agreements before allowing guests during the World Cup.

Fans therefore had to take drastic measures. Mohit Daga, who runs an umbrella-making business in Kolkata, says he and his friends plan to stay in Dubai and make six-hour journeys to Doha for matches. This however depends on the visa and other requirements. “It’s a more practical option and also more affordable, given the sharp increase in airfares,” said the 27-year-old Argentinian fan.

A quick look online at flight fares during the World Cup shows that a round trip from Delhi or Kolkata to Doha will cost up to Rs 1 lakh, almost three times more than normal fares .

Inflated hotel and airline rates are only part of the budget. As Arnab Chatterjee, a software consultant based in Dallas, USA, experienced in Russia four years ago, field expenses often also leave a hole in the pocket. “The good thing is that internal travel will be minimal, given the proximity between the sites,” explains the 39-year-old. “However, as we experienced in Russia, from food to water, everything is slightly more expensive at events like these.”

Chatterjee will first travel from Dallas to Kolkata before traveling to Doha with his brother and 75-year-old father to see Brazil in action. He paid $350 per night for their stay and, combined with airfare and other expenses, his Qatar 2022 spending is more than double what he spent in Russia four years ago.

“In Russia, for two people, I spent Rs 4.5 lakh,” he says. “This time, I think I will end up spending close to Rs 10 lakh in total. Why am I doing it? Because after watching the World Cup in Russia, my father and I decided to participate in all editions, since it was such a great experience. Also, we missed watching Brazil in 2018 so we wanted to see them play. I wish the logistics were made easier by giving fans more options, rather than having a centralized system.

Many fans may think they will be priced out of what is the biggest single-sport event. But the organizers ensure that it will remain accessible to all. “Qatar 2022 will indeed be the most accessible FIFA World Cup. All the more so for residents of India. Geographically, it is the closest FIFA World Cup to India – from many cities on and near the west coast of India are within a 3-4 hour flight from Doha, and once fans arrive in Doha, they don’t have to plan any domestic flights due to the compact hosting concept for the World Cup which is played in eight stadiums, the two furthest apart of which are 75km apart,” said the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.

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