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Sat 22 Jan 2011 12:00 AM

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Making the bid count

Viability director Guy Wilkinson reflects on Qatar’s successful FIFA World Cup bid and provides his take on the accommodation targets and the huge effort needed to reach them.

Making the bid count
Making the bid count

A round of applause for Qatar! It really is an incredible achievement for a nation whose football team FIFA currently ranks 114th in its World Ranking and which has never even qualified to play in the World Cup, to now be hosting the world’s largest sporting event in 2022, beating no less a competitor than the USA for the right to do so, by 14 votes to eight.

According to the FIFA Bid Evaluation Report on Qatar’s victorious tender (which by the way is up on the net for all to see), the Gulf nation has already contracted 85,000 rooms in 240 hotels and other types of accommodation (“above all in the four-star category”), thus exceeding FIFA’s minimum World Cup requirement of 60,000 rooms. According to reports, the total has crept up to 90,000 rooms since the report was published.

Doha hoteliers involved in the bid confirm they signed a contract with the Qatar government, pledging rooms for the event, as they did for the Asian Games in 2006. Presumably the same commitment has been required from developers of future projects too.

Of the original 85,000 contracted rooms, says the report, 40,000 are already available within more than 100 existing “hotels, villages and compounds”, including a number of compounds of above 2000 rooms each. The latest hotel supply data from the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) states that there were 58 hotels in 2009 with 9049 rooms. They claim that 28 new hotels will have opened by the end of 2010, so let’s round the numbers up to say, 85 hotels with 10,000 rooms. We can, therefore, assume that at least 30,000 or three quarters of the contracted existing rooms are in fact contained within residential, staff or other types of accommodation blocks - not in fact, hotels.

The Qatar bid also promises 140 new hotels (and by the same logic, presumably also other types of transient accommodation) with 55,000 new rooms, including one or more cruise ships with 6000 rooms to be moored at the New Doha Port in Al Wakrah, which is set to open in 2014 with dedicated cruise ship berths.

The bid report states that two thirds of the new rooms will be contained in 17 big projects, 13 of which are to be completed “after 2016, but in any case before 2021”.

Let’s think about that. We all know that there are a lot of hotels under construction in Doha, as shown in the Hotelier listings, including luminary projects such as a second Four Seasons and a second InterContinental, a Hilton, a St. Regis, a Mandarin Oriental, the new Qatar Convention Centre tower hotel and a bunch of others. But can there really be 140 projects in 12 years?  (And which are these big projects? They must be huge!)

You do the maths

I know that comparison with Dubai is anathema to fans of Qatar, but at least in terms of numbers, it may throw light on the practicability of this claim. To put things in perspective, Dubai had 368 hotels with 45,708 rooms in 2010, in addition to 191 hotel residences with 19,822 hotel apartments, making a total of 559 properties with 65,530 letting units.  To take a comparable 12-year period in the history of Dubai’s hotel sector, the emirate had 10,956 hotel rooms in 135 hotels in 1991 (excluding hotel apartments). After 12 years, the total had increased to 25,571 rooms in 271 hotels (in 2003), i.e., more than doubled. For Qatar to achieve its stated accommodation targets by 2022 in terms of rooms, it would have to increase its existing hotel supply by nine times!

However, if we agree that 75% of Qatar’s stated existing rooms supply in fact comprises non-hotel accommodation, and that 6000 rooms of the 90,000 future rooms will be floating on water, then it is possible that perhaps less than 20,000 of those may in fact be planned hotel rooms, which is, therefore, achievable.

Even then, in construction terms, a decade can go by in a flash. If you consider that some of the prominent hotels planned to open in time for the 2006 Asian Games are still not operational, you’ll see my point. The news of the World Cup and the US $50 billion that Qatar will be spending on infrastructure to ensure the event’s smooth running will surely put an end to any lingering doubts that private developers may have had about their construction projects there. Once again, the country’s construction resources will be strained to breaking point and projects will risk becoming delayed. Let’s hope there’s someone at the helm with a whip to crack, rolling their sleeves up as we speak!

Guy Wilkinson is a director of Viability, a hospitality and property consulting firm in Dubai.

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