People traveling abroad on leisure or business often prefer an experiential visit rather than solely staying at a property. In this regard, the Middle East is currently a highly attractive destination owing to the several experiences it has to offer.

Dubai for instance, recently saw exceptionally high volumes of travel owing to the Expo 2020 event which garnered global attention. Despite its conclusion, the Middle East is not done with its share of globally important events.

For starters, there is the FIFA World Cup, a much-anticipated event that occurs every four years. Come November 2022, and Qatar plays host to the 2022 FIFA World Cup comprising 32 teams from as many countries around the world vying for top honors in the sport.

But what does it mean for a hotelier?

Even if as a hospitality professional in the Middle East, you are not a fan of the sport, it still has major implications for the industry at large. Firstly, you can expect a large influx of fans coming down to watch the matches, which translates to hotel bookings and a fillip to local tourism.

Talks are already ripe in stakeholders wanting “to leave visitors beyond satisfied with their Qatar travel experience.” Additionally, the infrastructure in Qatar is being developed at a rapid pace to draw tourists in the hordes during the World Cup. In fact, preparations for the World Cup stadia already have sustainability built into the design, with Stadium 974 for example being built using repurposed ocean shipping containers that can be completely dismantled after the conclusion of the tournament.


Sustainable tourism is on top of Qatar’s national agenda and is at the epicenter of the Qatar National Vision 2030. The Qatari government firmly believes in the need to strike a balance between tourist footfalls and infrastructure development, and environmental protection. Thus, the process of developing and empowering environmental institutions that will work to scale up public awareness about environmental protection issues is in full flow – A positive for environmentally conscious tourists.

This major World Cup event has its ripples not just in the host country of Qatar. Neighboring Middle Eastern countries have been quick to respond to the opportunity, with Iran announcing a Visa fee waiver for world cup spectators to come to experience the hospitality that Iran has to offer.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s tourism and hospitality sector too is well on its way to recovery post-pandemic. Programs such as Riyadh Season, combined with growing consumer confidence in travel, have benefitted the cities of Riyadh and Jeddah, transforming them into key travel hubs in KSA for the second half of 2021, and this trend is expected to continue having a positive impact on hotel demand in 2022 as well. The forecasted occupancy for 2022 in Riyadh is 65 percent with 54 percent projected for Jeddah, representing a 12 and 7 percent increase respectively.

Apart from a strong performance shown in the hospitality sector, and demand indicators showing a positive outlook for 2022 in the KSA, the Kingdom has announced several new hospitality projects to drive growth including:

  • The 50-billion USD giga-project Diriyah Square, which will house around 38 hotels, out of which 16 will be international hotel brands.
  • AMAALA coastal-based development project with 30 hotels having 3,000 rooms. The large-scale mixed-use project is expected to receive around a million visitors a year.
  • The 15-billion USD Al-Ula master plan involves a broad range of initiatives across archaeology, tourism, culture, and education, and the arts and reflects KSA Vision 2030’s goals in economic diversification, local community empowerment, and heritage preservation. By 2035, once completed, the site will have 9,400 hotel rooms and 2 million visitors a year.
  • The 13-billion USD mega-development project Asser Tourism Masterplan is set to turn the Aseer region on the Red Sea coast into a tourism hub, set to attract more than 10 million domestic and international visitors by 2030 under the theme Arabian Highland.
  • The 500-billion USD NEOM megacity is touted to be 33 times larger than NYC, and promises to be humanity’s next chapter. Initial plans for the city include flying drone taxis, a Jurassic Park–style amusement park, and a giant artificial moon that lights up the city line. The city is being built in a futuristic way, using AI and clean energy sources. Residents would be encouraged to use bicycles but provisions would be made for bullet trains and hyperloops as well.

Major industry updates and insights like these help DMOs, Airlines, Hotels and Tourism Agencies to anticipate demand and plan their marketing activities and execute them accordingly. It is highly critical to collects such forward-looking data from a large number of sources, analyzes it and presents it in an easy to consume format, making it much easier for professionals to take corrective or presumptive action.

Key Takeaways

  • Hotels that focus on elevated safety and sustainability methods are more preferred by the environment and health-conscious customers, so greater efforts need to be put into ensuring that your property is attentive to these concerns.
  • Remote working is driving a lot of traffic into countries and destinations, and it is essential to tap into these demand sources by offering enticing deals for long term stays, and discounts on other experiences within the property.
  • People are looking at hotels as more than just stay options. The hotels need to transform into a lifestyle hub, offering guests an array of choices to relax, unwind and explore. Spaces need to be utilized to the maximum, thus generating higher revenues.
  • Attention should be paid to the holistic wellness of the guests, and provisions need to be made to let them experience the best of physical and mental well-being during the course of their stay at your property.
  • Experiential tourism is gaining traction, and it is important to stay in tune with the current events in and around your location, which helps you anticipate demand and provide the best comfort and hospitality to your guests.

About the Author

Vicky Rawal
VP-Commercial, South Asia and MEA