DOHA (AFP) - Qatar has marketed its opulent skyscraper hotels as jewels in its World Cup 2022 crown, but coronavirus curbs and a glut in new properties are jeopardising the industry.
As well as keeping out overseas visitors, travel restrictions have complicated staffing preparations just as Qatar’s hospitality sector was scaling-up for football’s
One former Qatar-based hotelier told AFP that preparations had been made “difficult” and staffing was not at levels to ensure properties are ready in time. “It’s a struggle,” she said.
One Doha hotel manager said lockdown had forced him to wait three to five months to bring staff from abroad, complicating training plans.
As in much of the Gulf, migrant labour is vital to the gas-rich emirate where expat workers outnumber the 333,000 Qataris nearly nine to one.
Without a large middle class to sustain domestic tourism, Qatar had hoped to expand its hospitality sector ahead of 2022 by encouraging mini-breaks for passengers connecting through Doha on Qatar Airways. That promotion is currently frozen.
Qatar expects as many as 1.5 million people to descend on the tiny Gulf nation for the World Cup, and in the months before and after the big event.
But the increasing supply of hotel rooms needed for the tournament could hurt operators in the two years before kick-off.
The hotel market is “generally over-supplied”, said Pawel Banach of property valuation experts ValuStrat which has warned that not all of Qatar’s hotels will survive the coronavirus downturn.
Smaller properties have suffered the most during Qatar’s strict lockdown, the Doha manager said, with non-residents mostly unable to visit the country since March.
“Some hotels lost 30 to 50 percent of their expat staff,” he added. “The country has been affected for sure.”
Even Doha’s best-known properties are now rarely full, with many depending on their restaurants and bars to stay afloat as demand for stays has collapsed. The situation shows no sign of picking up soon.
Strict curbs on entry have been extended to January, meaning hotels look unlikely to exceed the 50 percent occupancy rates for 2020 forecast by property services firm Cushman and Wakefield.