Hilton, Starwood invest in Qatar for FIFA 2022 World Cup

(Westin Doha)

The 2022 FIFA World Cup is only six years away, and the host nation of Qatar has been stepping up hotel development in anticipation of an influx of visitors. Global companies and brands are building hotels in cities that will host games—but alternative options are already under consideration in case there aren't enough rooms for players and fans.

21,000 to 46,000 in Six Years

When Qatar first bid for the games, it promised to build more than 55,000 rooms. Since winning its bid, Qatar has spent tens of billions of dollars on upgrading infrastructure, and has built "scores" of hotels and apartment complexes. Some projects, however, have faced major delays, including at least two hotels in the capital city of Doha. As of January, authorities were predicting that 46,000 rooms would be ready for the games.

STR Global estimates that Qatar's current hotel stock totals 21,056. The number of rooms in Doha alone has increased by almost 7 percent so far this year alone—but occupancy rates are dropping, with only 65 percent of rooms occupied and RevPAR dropping by nearly a quarter. (STR attributes the drop in demand to the increase in supply and to a drop in international arrivals due to falling oil prices.) According to STR’s March 2016 Pipeline Report for the Middle East and Africa, Doha's pipeline includes 5,724 rooms in 26 hotels, but this number could always change should funds disappear amid a visitor downturn. 

Who's Building?

Global hotel companies are expanding their footprints across Qatar, with several signings and openings this year alone. Just last week, Universal Management Group signed a management agreement with Hilton Worldwide to open the Hilton Garden Inn Doha C Ring Road in 2018 in Qatar’s capital.

Hilton already operates the Hilton Doha, as well as the recently opened DoubleTree by Hilton Doha – Old Town and expects to increase its Qatari portfolio with a further seven projects currently under development, including the region’s first Curio, a Collection by Hilton hotel expected to open later this year at the Mall of Qatar.

Hilton has also signed a management agreement with Assets Real Estate Development Company to open the 325-room Conrad Doha, expected to open in early 2019.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts, meanwhile recently opened the Westin Doha Hotel & Spa, in partnership with Ghanem Al Thani Holdings, headed by Sheikh Ghanem al Thani. The property is Starwood’s fourth hotel in Qatar. Starwood currently operates 53 properties across the Middle East and has a pipeline of nearly 40 hotels set to open in the next five years.

Shangri-La Doha

Rotana, meanwhile, opened the City Centre Rotana Doha in February. Developed by Al Rayyan Tourism Investment Company, the hotel is located in the West Bay area. Around the same time, Shangri-La opened a 50-story property, also in West Bay,

In January, Langham Hospitality Group signed its first hotel for Qatar. When it opens in 2018, the Langham Place, Lusail will be located in the newly planned city of Lusail, 14 miles north of Doha. The hotel will be developed by Real Estate Services Group and managed by Langham Hospitality Group. Notably, the property will be part of the Lusail City development, and close to Lusail Iconic Stadium, where the opening and final matches of the World Cup will be played. 

Simaisma, a Murwab Resort, opened in February, and is operated by Murwab Hotel Group, a new arm of Katara Hospitality. The property was reportedly scouted in March by FIFA professionals to see if it had the kinds of facilities that would be required by a World Cup team.

Contingency Plans

Perhaps remembering the embarrassment Sochi faced in 2014 when early arrivals to the Winter Olympics found hotels (to put it politely) not yet ready for international travelers, FIFA organizers are already planning for alternate accommodation options should sufficient quality hotels be available by the time the World Cup begins in 2022. Organizers are reportedly considering a proposal to put fans in Bedouin-style desert camps, or promoting private services such as Airbnb and housing fans in cruise ships docked along the coast, a government official said.

Sources: Reuters, STR Global, Doha News