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Qatar’s Solution for World Cup Housing: Cruise Ships

Qatar lacks enough hotel rooms for the World Cup but has too many for everyday use. The solution: Cruise ships. But will all the rooms be snagged by contractors?

Qatar World Cup

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Hosting the World Cup is a boon for any country. However, the complications of arranging housing for visitors is daunting. The tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar has a unique idea: Housing tourists in cruise ships and hastily constructed “temporary budget hotels.”

Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, is just beginning the process of implementing logistics for the matches. Approximately 400,000 tourists are expected to make the journey to Qatar–along with a fleet of guest workers to handle construction, services, and infrastructure needs. Approximately 85% of Qatar’s population of 1.6 million are guest workers, who lack citizenship and hail primarily from India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and other Arab nations.

Qatar’s decisions when it comes to housing the 400,000 tourists expected to arrive in a country of just 1.6 million residents are skewing in a utilitarian direction. Reuters is reporting that at least one cruise ship will be converted into temporary hotel housing for the 2022 Cup. As of press time, information on the number of ships, owners and amenities remain unavailable.

According to Qatar’s official bid to soccer regulatory authority Fifa, the ships will be docked in the town of al-Wakrah. There will be 6,000 total rooms on the ships.

Qatar’s bid also includes plans to build 140 new hotels and compounds on land for housing.

Also under consideration are temporary budget hotels–essentially barracks or trailer compounds–that could quickly be constructed before the World Cup and torn down afterward. Although no one’s idea of dream housing, visitors will be traveling to Qatar for soccer rather than luxury. If the need is bad enough, Qatar could just be able to pull it off.

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Cruise ships were also used as housing by Qatar for previous sports events. During the 2006 Asian Games, Qatar arranged for three cruise ships to be used as tourist housing. Together, the three ships had a capacity of 2,500–a relative drop in the sea of 400,000 guests expected for the Cup. Most of the ships were along the lines of the New Flamenco, which was built back in 1972 and only had a capacity of 750.

But Qatar’s cruise ship plan faces problems: According to press reports in the Gulf Times, very few spectators ended up staying in cruise ship housing. Instead, contractors booked nearly all the ship rooms to house guest workers:

Initially it was said that the ships were meant to accommodate “spectators, as there is a huge demand for accommodation from them”. However, [Kholoud] al-Hail said the three ships were already “almost fully booked with the staff of the (Asian Games) contractors.” “(But) If we see an opportunity to allot the rooms for spectators, then we will announce (it) in the target markets,” she said, adding that the Dagoc received “overwhelming requests from its contractors” who have booked onboard rooms for their staff.

Al-Hail said the rooms on board the three luxury cruise liners cost “almost as much as the city’s five-star hotels” that have jacked up their rates by at least 30% for the Games.

Apart from some previously reported sticky PR concerns with Qatar’s Olympics, two factors also complicate World Cup housing for Qatar:

  1. Qatar currently has an oversupply of hotel rooms. The capital city of Doha is home to the vast majority of hotels, and the emirate’s annual visitors barely break 1 million. Authorities in Qatar are loathe to build additional mega-hotels for fear that the buildings will become unprofitable once the World Cup is over and visitors go home. Unlike South Africa in 2010, Qatar has a very small indigenous tourist industry. Most visitors to the Persian Gulf opt for Dubai or Abu Dhabi–not Qatar.

  2. Unlike past World Cups, Qatar’s will not rely as heavily on lodging in the home of Qataris for tourist accommodation. Thanks to the emirate’s oil and gas wealth, citizens receive incredible cradle-to-grave welfare policies that negate much of the need for small business and entrepreneurship. While some Qataris are expected to vacate their homes for the duration of the World Cup and to offer them out for rental, live-in guest housing is expected by analysts to be much less of a factor in 2022 Qatar than 2010 South Africa.

Meanwhile, Qataris are spooked by what could happen if things go wrong. Brazil, host of the 2014 World Cup, is currently seeing their preparations in “disarray.” Construction remains years behind schedule and Fifa has openly criticized the Brazilian government. Qatar, hosts of the first World Cup in the Middle East, are hoping for a better go of things–even if that includes housing tourists on cruise ships.

[Photo via Fifa]

Follow Neal Ungerleider on Twitter.