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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Arab football fans flood into Russia for World Cup party 

Unprecedented numbers from the region set to travel to Russia for the month-long festival of football

Football fans from the Mena region are travelling to Russia in unprecedented numbers ahead of the 2018 Fifa World Cup. EPA
Football fans from the Mena region are travelling to Russia in unprecedented numbers ahead of the 2018 Fifa World Cup. EPA

For some football fans in the Arab world, Thursday, June 14, promises to be a very special occasion because the wait for the greatest sporting show on Earth is finally over.

Paired with the start of Eid Al Fitr, it promises to be a bigger party than usual as record numbers travel to Russia to enjoy the month-long World Cup festival of football.

Football fans from the Middle East and North Africa are travelling to Russia in unprecedented numbers to see their heroes play on the biggest sporting stage, according to online searches for hotels and flights compiled by Dubai-based travel operator Wego.

“This year, with the unprecedented qualification of four Arab teams for the World Cup, excitement levels are higher than ever before,” said Mamoun Hmedan, managing director of Wego Mena and India.

“Football, in this region, is a celebrated pastime that binds people of different nationalities together.

“Year on year, Wego has seen more Gulf travellers fly out to the host country to watch the games live.”

The figures suggest football fever has firmly gripped the region, with Wego claiming its research shows that interest in attending football events from Mena residents has grown exponentially.

Since April, data shows a 1,493 per cent jump in Russian hotel-search volumes from the region, compared to the same period last year.

Meanwhile, there has been a 402 per cent spike in flight searches to major Russian cities, the new numbers show, with Moscow and St Petersburg the most popular destinations.

“Wego recorded a 16-fold increase in interest for World Cup-led hotel searches, a number that appears to be growing every day,” Mr Hmedan said.

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Saudi Arabia will kick off the tournament against hosts Russia, with Egypt’s 2018 tournament debut taking place on Friday.

The Pharaohs may be sweating on the fitness of star player Mohamed Salah before the clash with Uruguay, but that hasn’t stopped hordes of fans travelling to Russia to support their team.

Search volumes for the past three months have Saudi Arabia ranked top of the list for interest in trips to Russia, followed by Egypt and the UAE.

In terms of hotel-search numbers, Saudi Arabia came first, demonstrating a 2,069 per cent increase on last year, while Egypt came second with a 1,412 per cent rise in traffic.

Flight bookings from Saudi Arabia to Russia are up 544 per cent on last year, followed by Egypt, up 459 per cent, and Bahrain with an increase of 342 per cent.

Flights are cheapest from the UAE to Russia at US$479 (Dh1,760) during the build-up to the World Cup.

Wego search analytics also revealed that the average fan from Kuwait forked out more than $394 for a hotel in Russia during this period, but travellers from Bahrain spent just $110.

“Saudi football fans are known to be incredibly passionate about the sport,” Mr Hmedan said.

“For them, money is no barrier when making travel bookings, especially if it means a chance to watch the World Cup directly from the stands.

“We’ve also seen travellers from Kuwait exhibit similar tendencies.”

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