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Qatar World Cup: Accommodation worries for football fans

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    20 hours ago

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Image source, Paul Clegg

In the past 25 years, Paul Clegg has travelled to several countries to watch the England football team play. He has already ticked three World Cups off his list and is now gearing up for his fourth in Qatar.

Like the previous editions, he plans to track England’s journey through the tournament and has purchased tickets for their matches all the way until the finals, if they qualify.

The only challenge for him is that he is not sure where he is going to sleep for most of the tournament.

“I’ve just booked a room for the first four nights and I am paying a lot for it. I haven’t found any reasonably priced options, so I am not sure where will I be staying after that,” he says.

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Paul is not alone in his struggle – thousands of others are facing the same problem.

The BBC spoke to more than two dozen fans who still have not managed to book any accommodation. With less than two months to go, their concerns are growing.

The World Cup is expected to attract more than one million visitors, but by March Qatar only had 30,000 hotel rooms, 80% of which had already been booked by Fifa for football teams, officials, and sponsors.

Fans taking photos in front of the World Cup countdown clock

Image source, MUSTAFA ABUMUNES

To boost accommodation options, the organisers are offering shared rooms in empty apartments, villas, fan villages and traditional-style tents in the desert.

Two cruise ships are being converted into floating hotels that will be moored at Doha’s port. All these measures are expected to add up to 70,000 rooms to the market.

In a statement to the BBC, the country’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy said the Gulf state would deliver up to 130,000 rooms in time for the tournament.

“This is a comfortable inventory for fans, teams and sponsors travelling to the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022,” it added.

Despite this announcement, accommodation options on the ground in Qatar are scant and expensive.

Refabricated cabins at so-called fan villages built in the desert on the outskirts of Doha are being sold as a budget option. They are priced at $207 (£184) per night and many fans say they are not worth the money.

Anas Filali, who is flying in from the United States, says there are no affordable options for budget travellers like him.

“Two hundred dollars for those cabins at the fan village… is just too expensive. Airbnb rooms are ridiculously priced too. I am hoping to find some cheaper options once I get there,” he says.

The BBC requested access to visit the fan villages, but permission was declined by the authorities. The sites are reportedly still under construction.

Locals have been allowed to host fans at their homes, but at hefty prices. On the room-rental site Airbnb there are hardly any options for less than $200 a night.

Leo Caglilio, who is travelling from Australia with his brother-in-law, is paying $265 a night for a private room in a family home. He says he never faced the issue of finding an affordable room when he went to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.

“This time it has been really stressful. We had been looking since April, but the price never really came down,” he says.

Qatar is the smallest nation by land size ever to stage the World Cup.

The country has reportedly spent $200bn (£177bn) since it won the bid to host the tournament in 2010 to build infrastructure and stadiums.

The busiest period will be the group stage, when four matches a day will be played in stadiums in and around Doha.

Football’s governing body, FIFA, says almost 2.5 million tickets out of a possible 3 million are already sold and an unprecedented 1.2 million people, equivalent to almost 40% of Qatar’s population, are expected to visit.

Boon for neighbours

The accommodation squeeze has forced thousands of fans to look for options outside Qatar, with many deciding to base themselves in neighbouring countries.

The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman will be operating daily shuttle flights to ferry fans to the host country.

Dubai has emerged as a popular destination, with demand for hotel rooms soaring ahead of the World Cup. The city will be operating almost 50 shuttle flights every day to Doha, which is less than an hour away by plane.

Simon Witney

Simon Witney, a fan from the UK, is staying in Dubai and plans to travel to Doha only on matchdays. He says he is paying less than $100 a night for a “much better room” in an upmarket locality in the city.

“Despite the flight cost, I will be saving a substantial amount,” he says.

The Dubai Sports Council estimates that about 1 million World Cup fans could arrive in the city – though some observers feel this target might be ambitious, considering Qatar is also expecting around the same number of visitors.

Despite the accommodation chaos, many fans like Paul hope to be able to stay in Qatar to make the most of their visit.

“I want to soak in the World Cup atmosphere,” he says. “If I stay in another country, then I will lose out on that experience.”

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