Football tourism is booming. What is ahead for Oman?

I just returned from a short business trip to Madrid and Munich. Can you guess what these two cities have in common? It is not the language and it is not the food. Not car manufacturing nor the Monarchy. You have not guessed it yet? It is football. Football tourism to be precise.
Upon entering the train which connects the airport to Madrid city centre, I started looking at the names of the stations, looking for familiar places that I could have recognised from the school’s time and history lessons. I was imagining to recognise some of the great explorers such as Cristopher Columbus — which as an Italian I would claim he was an Italian too, but in Spain they claim him to be Spanish — or Vasco De Gama.
Perhaps Amerigo Vespucci, who named the continent America, but no… I recognised Santiago Bernabeu: the famous Stadium where Real Madrid plays home games.
I was obviously not the only one noticing that. I looked around and noticed tourists wearing Real Madrid scarves. I proceeded to my hotel to check in, but my curiosity did not stop there. I asked at the reception if visiting Santiago Bernabeu Stadium was a “big thing” nowadays. The gentleman at the reception, David, told me: “Big thing? It is the biggest thing! Santiago Bernabeu is the most visited Museum in Madrid!”. Isn’t that ironic? A stadium that is considered as a museum. I was lost for words.
I then started investigating further and — first of all — I went ahead to check who Santiago Bernabeu was. Turned out that Santiago Bernabéu de Yeste was not an explorer, but a former footballer and practically the man who built up the fame and success of Real Madrid. He was the president of the team for 35 years and brought Real Madrid to the international stage.
Nearly half a billion dollars were invested in renovating the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium over the past couple of years. The renovation is believed to contribute to the growth in tourism in the city. Spain has just crossed 80 million tourists per year, being — according to statistics — the most visited country in the world.
What did not surprise me was that Arabs are among the most welcomed tourists in the country. Perhaps some similarities in the language due to the past presence of Arabs in the Peninsula Iberica. Perhaps the friendly people and the lovely climate drives Arabs to Spain. But most certainly, football is one of the main decision making for Arabs to choose Spain as a holiday destination.
In the afternoon I met my client and I shared with him about my experience in Oman. He told me that Omani tourists are among the best: very polite and friendly. “Good spenders too…” he added with a smile. Especially when it comes to brands, he hinted. In fact, for a happy man travelling to see his favourite team, there is often a happier wife to enjoy her shopping while the husband is “eating” football. Not only in Madrid, of course. In fact, in Barcelona, Camp Nou is the lead attraction.
A stadium overtaking Picasso in terms of tourists attracted.
The next day I proceeded to Munich for more business meetings. In the city centre I could not avoid to take notice of Bayern Munich shops all over the place. There, my friend Martin told me that Arabs love to visit Munich for football, history and fashion. A mix that brings the relatively small German city to international visibility when it comes to tourism.
The UK is certainly not new to the phenomena of football tourism. Old Trafford and Anfield Stadium are the keywords there. Nearly a million visitors went to the UK on holiday last year with the intention of either visiting a stadium or watching a football game. As a matter of fact, according to statistics, 83 per cent of all foreigners watching football, prioritise the English Premier League vs the Spanish La Liga at 69 per cent.
The German Bundesliga and the Italian Serie A are closely attracting the same amount of supporters at 58 per cent and 57 per cent respectively. But while the English Premier League (EPL) attracts mostly Asian supporters, the Spanish La Liga is the generally primary entertainment for Arabs.
It is hard to quantify how much money does the football tourism generate, but some statistics point out that La Liga alone moves nearly $5 billion a year. Football is a true blessing for the European top 4 leagues. Soon we will experience the reverse, when tens — if not hundreds — of thousands will visit the Middle East to witness the first ever Football World Cup played in the Arab Peninsula. Oman might be chosen as a continuation of the holiday for many of such tourists.