Moscow tries to quash World Cup hotel shortage fears

November 18, 2017

MOSCOW - Russian World Cup organisers scrambled on Friday to quash fears that Moscow may run out of hotel space nearly half a year before the start of the marquee football competition.

But another problem for the June 14-July 15 event emerged with news that plane ticket prices to some cities staging games had shot up by 40 percent this week. The vast country -- on tense terms with the West over the Ukraine crisis -- is keen to put its best foot forward when it welcomes fans from across the world to watch what is arguably sport's most beloved event. The 11 host cities stretching from Kaliningrad near the European Union to Yekaterinburg in the Urals have undergone wholesale renovations aimed at burnishing Russia's image as a welcoming country with a friendly face.

Everything was going according to plan until Moscow 's sports and tourism official responsible for arranging hotel space said all rooms in the capital might be booked for the World Cup by the end of the year. Moscow will host both the opening match and the final at its 81,000-seat Luzhniki Stadium.

'We are worried that the number of rooms available may already be exhausted by the end of December,' Alexei Tikhonov told Russia's RIA Novosti state news agency on Wednesday.

Russian 2018 World Cup organising committee confirmed that 60 percent of the rooms available in Moscow had already been reserved by fans. But it called Tikhonov's fears unfounded because 'the number of Moscow hotel rooms completely corresponds with the standards established by FIFA'.

The world football governing body said on Friday it had already sold almost 160,000 match tickets -- 49 percent of them to foreign fans. Organisers said Moscow had space for 177,000 people after building 42 additional hotels in 2011-16. 'There is no reason to believe that Moscow will encounter a shortage of hotel rooms for the 2018 World Cup ,' the Russian committee said in a statement released to AFP.

Event organisers also brushed off news that ticket prices for flights from Moscow to Saint Petersburg for the semi-final match had soared by 41 percent. Organisers said demand was likely to level off once it becomes clear where each national squad plays when the official draw is held in Moscow on December 1. 'And instead of flying, fans can always take one of our free trains,' the Russian committee's transportation department spokesman Ivan Tito told AFP.

Russia will run more than 500 trains between host cities free of charge for fans who have match tickets and a special ID card showing they had passed a security check.