DOHA Qatar may house thousands of football fans in Bedouin-style tents in desert areas close to stadiums during the 2022 World Cup amid growing concerns about a potential shortage of accommodation during the tournament.
Most of the likely 500,000 fans are expected to stay in hotels and apartments, but thousands could also camp under canvas in desert close to stadiums, a move organizers are holding up as a creative, and culturally authentic, way for Qatar to meet FIFA requirements.
"At the heart of this World Cup is a commitment to showcase the hospitality and friendship of the Middle East. As a result, we are actively researching the concept of supporters sleeping under the stars," a spokesperson for Qatar's World Cup Supreme Committee told Reuters without giving further details.
"With six years to go, all options are still being explored but we are excited by the possibility of supporters enjoying a range of accommodations designed for all needs."
Qatar is also looking at promoting private letting services such as Airbnb and putting up spectators on cruise ships docked along the coast, a government official said.
If fans choose to stay in neighboring countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - where hotel rooms and alcohol may be more readily available - and fly in to watch matches, that could further reduce a potential strain on accommodation.
Since winning its bid, Qatar has spent tens of billions of dollars on upgrading infrastructure and has built scores of hotels and apartment complexes.
But some projects have stalled including a $12 billion bridge and underwater tunnel link across Doha bay and the building of at least two hotels in the capital.
While that suggests budgetary caution at a time of low oil prices, it also highlights worries about possibly overbuilding -- especially of expensive white elephant developments that bequeath leftover infrastructure the country may never need.
It also reflects a more pragmatic style of government evident since the 2013 accession of Sheikh Tamim, a low-key ruler focused more on domestic issues than self-promotion on the world stage.
Some Qataris criticize the furious pace of World Cup construction.
"In the past five years the number of hotel rooms has doubled, now they are looking at doubling them again," a former Qatari diplomat said. "People are asking: 'How sustainable is this?' 'Once the cup is over what do we, as Qataris, really need with all these hotels?'"
Desert camping, a popular winter activity for Qataris, who are known for assembling luxurious sites among the sand dunes, could help allay concerns about thin occupancy after the event, analysts say.
Contrary to Qatar's World Cup bid in 2010, when it said it would create more than 55,000 rooms, authorities said in January that 46,000 rooms would be ready.
The still implies a busy building program -- industry analysts STR Global estimate Qatar’s current hotel stock totals 21,056. A Supreme Committee spokesperson said Qatar was on track to deliver the hotel rooms required by FIFA.
The Supreme Committee did not say if the camps would serve as the specially created "fanzones" in which conservative Muslim Qatar has said fans will be allowed to consume alcohol.
Public drinking of alcohol is banned in Qatar, which also limits the sale of alcohol primarily to luxury hotels.
(Additional reporting by Matt Smith in Dubai; Editing by William Maclean/Mark Heinrich)