x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Hotels score big with World Cup

Bumper revenues as viewers pack the venues in the traditionally slower summer season

The beautiful game has produced some beautiful results for the hotel industry. Bars and entertainment areas in the UAE are expecting bumper takings for the World Cup final on Sunday and now they are looking beyond the tournament to think up ways of generating similar business in the future.

The football festival in South Africa is the biggest sporting event of the year. The 2006 World Cup attracted an audience of 26.29 billion television viewers, FIFA said, and that number will be at least matched this time around. With those sort of viewing figures, hotels here have set up large screens and "stadium" venues to show the games. This has provided a much-needed boost to business during what is normally is a slow season for the industry.

"With the World Cup only coming around every four years, the opportunity to capitalise on an event which appeals across so many nationalities is too good to miss," says Saskia Adriaens at the research firm Euromonitor International. Given such a large expatriate community, many venues in Dubai offered special World Cup promotions. As a sport traditionally watched in bars across the globe, venues such as Barasti, the Palladium and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel built "stadiums" specifically to attract footy fans.

These have been very popular, with high-definition screens, air conditioning and atmospheric lighting all creating a great - and often free - atmosphere in which to watch the games." Ms Adriaens believes hotels will now try to promote other sporting events. "This has proved a good way to promote customer loyalty and an idea which could be used for the Rugby World Cup 2011, Tri Nations rugby, Twenty20 cricket and other high-profile sporting events," she says.

Hotels have certainly come up with creative ideas to package their World Cup coverage. The Media Rotana hotel in Dubai screened the games in an airconditioned tent set up for the tournament and also showed the matches in its British-style Nelson's bar. Nicola Zamboni, the director of food and beverage at the hotel, says the tent will remain after the tournament and will be turned into a "chill-out lounge" until Ramadan. It will then be used for iftars.

"We were always thinking about what we would do after the World Cup," says Mr Zamboni. "It's like the Olympic Games - everyone is always thinking about what to do with the stadiums afterwards." The tent has proved a hit with customers and boosted revenue, as the hotel's terrace bar is located outdoors and does not normally attract as many patrons during the summer. "This is generating more revenues," Mr Zamboni says, without going into details. "The whole thing is about capacity."

That the World Cup is a month-long event makes it easier to justify the cost of special efforts. "We'll definitely set up another venue like this for Euro 2012," says Mr Zamboni. "If there's something that is attractive and you can forecast enough revenues to justify the cost, we would set something up. Everything depends on the cost involved." For the midweek semi-final ties and Sunday's final, Mr Zamboni is expecting a full house and hopes food and beverage takings will overshadow the figures from the earlier games. "That's our goal." As for the long term, Mr Zamboni feels the hotel will retain the patronage of customers who came for the World Cup matches. "We have had a very good turnout and some people after the matches go to our restaurants," he says. "We have had a lot of new faces in the hotel. It's worked like a marketing tool for Media Rotana."

Barasti, the popular entertainment venue on the beach at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi hotel in Dubai, went one better than a stylish tent, building a five-storey, 20-tonne dome for the World Cup. With most of Barasti's seating outdoors, summer is normally a difficult period. But the World Cup and the purpose-built dome have increased customer capacity and boosted revenues, although figures are still coming in.

The airconditioned complex holds 1,200 fans, while the games have been broadcast on a 12-metre wide screen. Tolga Lacin, the executive assistant food and beverage manager, says the World Cup helped increase revenue by 70 per cent last month compared with June last year, without providing figures. But the investment has also been significant. One Dubai hotelier says he opted not to screen the matches in his hotel because it would have meant an outlay of Dh32,000 (US$8,700) for the rights to show the games. But Mr Lacin is convinced the move has paid off. Barasti is expecting up to 5,000 fans for the final, with capacity crowds at the dome. After the final whistle is blown at the tournament on Sunday, the dome will be left in place until August 8 and will be used to host DJ events at the weekends.

Beyond that, Barasti is now considering options for next summer to battle the hot-season slowdown. "To be honest there's nothing concrete, but we would look at doing something again," says Derryn French, the director of marketing and communications at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi. "We're going to regroup and discuss what we can do next year." Elsewhere, the Shangri-La Abu Dhabi hotel will be leaving its World Cup tent in place during Ramadan.

A spokeswoman for the hotel says it also is considering other ways to generate extra income from similar activities. Of course, revenue generated from the World Cup could have been even better. At Barasti, Mr Zamboni says that England's games topped the "takings league" and that the customer turn-out for the quarter-finals would have increased had the team remained in the competition instead of being knocked out by Germany in last 16.

"I don't know what would have happened if England was playing in the semi-finals and the finals," he says. rbundhun@thenational.ae