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Feature

Fans travelling to Ahmedabad for India-Pakistan game brace for logistical nightmare

With demand far outstripping supply, and with a reschedule thrown into the mix, average hotel tariffs in the city have shot up nearly 15 times

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
15-Aug-2023
Fans wear half-and-half India-Pakistan shirts, India vs Pakistan, Men's T20 World Cup 2022, Super 12s, MCG/Melbourne, October 23, 2022

Travelling to watch India vs Pakistan? Be prepared to spend mindboggling sums of money  •  AFP/Getty Images

"My parents want to watch India vs Pakistan, but I'm so hesitant." That's an India cricketer, an IPL star no less. His words underline how much of a struggle it is to watch a match as a spectator in Indian stadiums. Even the privileged aren't insulated from this struggle.
While the BCCI has said it is working to ensure a better fan experience at the World Cup, ensuring hassle-free travel and accommodation doesn't quite come under its ambit. That said, the board hasn't made things any easier by delaying the announcement of the schedule and ticket sales, and then rescheduling a number of matches including India vs Pakistan.
The paying fan, therefore, continues to suffer. Those wanting to travel to watch India play Pakistan in Ahmedabad, for example, have already experienced their fair share of logistical nightmares. And it's just started.
Tickets for the game don't go on sale until September 3, and even in the unlikely scenario that fans are somehow able to get hold of them through an online lottery, there is the matter of collecting the physical tickets, and the surge in demand for hotels in the city threatens to leave a massive dent in their pockets.
Average hotel tariffs in the city have shot up nearly 15 times. A hotel that charges INR 4000 a night on average is going at upwards of INR 60,000 a night on twin-sharing basis on booking.com.
Those looking for star hotels will have to shell out more than they would perhaps pay for business-class flight travel to Europe, with stay packages costing upwards of INR 350,000 for two nights. But, in some cases, even money power is unlikely to help as star hotels outside of those earmarked for teams have been booked out by the BCCI for its sponsors and affiliate partners.
This has led to fans with valid booking confirmations being unconditionally told to look elsewhere or, "after several rounds of going back and forth", offered refunds or a credit shell to reserve their booking for a later date.
Fans don't have the option of bypassing accommodation needs in the city because the BCCI has made it clear that physical tickets will need to be collected at outlets across the city a day before the match. So you need to be there. The Gujarat Cricket Association experienced chaotic scenes during the IPL final, when fans were forced to collect tickets at the venue a day prior to the game, leading to long queues outside the stadium.
Major sporting events have found ways to avoid scenes like these. At the football World Cup in Qatar, for example, fans who procured tickets online could validate QR codes by downloading the official tournament app, making entry and exit a seamless process.
For the India vs Pakistan game, "we had hotel and train reservations for October 14, because we went by initial speculation," says Sanchit Desai, a Mumbai-based sports-management professional. "But once rumours swirled around of a date change, we did another round of bookings for October 13 [a day before the rescheduled date] without cancelling our earlier reservations. Now, our hotel reservation for October 15th [the original match date] holds, but to re-book from October 13, we're being charged nearly four-five times the average price.
"So we have no idea what we're going to do for our hotel. We're in touch with a friend who stays locally, but in the event of us not getting tickets, the plan is to travel to Ahmedabad and enjoy garba nights [a dance festival] and experience the vibe of the city on Navaratri."
Rabin SK, a tech entrepreneur from Chennai, is now reconsidering his plans too. "A one-way date change for my flights is costing INR 10,000 today [this amount is dynamic and could go higher as the travel date nears]," he says. "I plan to wait for match tickets. Only if I get them, I'll shell out extra for flights and hotels."
The surge in hotel fares has forced Gujaratis settled abroad, especially those who make annual health check-up trips to India, to plan a unique workaround for the hotel situations. Several top hospitals in the city have received enquiries for master health check-ups and scans with a night's stay.
"I received enquiries from my classmates settled abroad for full health check-up with stay package for October 14," Dr Paras Shah, a surgeon at the Sannidhya Multispeciality Hospital, was quoted as saying by Radio City FM, Ahmedabad. "Initially, we'd locked in two rooms, generally we ensure such a facility especially for those coming in from abroad. But within a week, I got suspicious because we received seven-eight calls with similar requests. That's when we found out the coincidence, and that they were also trying to book tickets for the India-Pakistan World Cup game."
The rise in demand has now made private home owners in Ahmedabad try to cash in. One specific listing for a two-bedroom apartment that can house a maximum of eight guests in Motera, advertised under "India v Pakistan, World Cup special" costs INR 100,000 a night, while individual rooms on single-occupancy basis are being listed at INR 10,000 a night.
The Hotel Association of India (HAI), a body that represents the hotel and tourism industry, put the surge down to a demand vs supply situation, stating hotels were perfectly within their rights to bump up prices to the degree they have, especially factoring in a "zero revenue" situation they had to face during the pandemic period.
"HAI has no role to play in its members' commercial or business decisions. Prices are driven by market forces," says Charulata Sukhija, HAI assistant secretary general. "HAI has been highlighting the need for creating additional hotel rooms in the country and the policy interventions required to augment hotel capacities."
All these issues aside, imagine for a moment that you are a Pakistani fan wishing to travel to India to watch the match. It's a difficult journey to make at the best of times, given the geopolitical climate, but it has been possible in the past. During the 2011 World Cup, the Indian government had issued visas for Pakistani fans to travel to Mohali to watch the India-Pakistan semi-final. There is no clarity this time around from the BCCI or the Ministry of External Affairs on the process.
In May, Ahmedabad had witnessed a similar scramble for last-minute flights and accommodation when torrential rain pushed the IPL final into its reserve day. Within minutes of the final moving from Sunday to Monday, one-way flight fares out of the city on all major sectors soared.
An Ahmedabad-Bengaluru one-way ticket, for example, cost nearly INR 23,000, more than double the average return fare on the sector, while hotels, in tune with the unprecedented demand, hiked tariffs by more than 50%. This time too, in addition to hotels booked out by the BCCI and the ICC, several other hotels have already been booked by tour groups, contributing to the spike in prices.
Before the official announcement of the India-Pakistan rescheduling, Bharat Army, one of the ICC-registered fan groups, had warned its patrons against pre-emptively booking hotels and flights based on unconfirmed reports of the match date.
"The general feeling is, 'Why does this happen in India?' In 2011, there were last-minute changes which spoilt the experience," Bharat Army founder Rakesh Patel told ESPNcricinfo recently. "Many people were booked to Kolkata for India vs England but it was changed to Bangalore last minute. In 2016 [T20 World Cup], we'd nearly booked for 400-450 people to go to Dharamsala for India vs Pakistan but the game was moved to Kolkata.
"Now in 2023, we're in a situation where we have issues around the tournament. The general feeling is: it doesn't happen anywhere else, so why does it happen in our country? The tie-ups we have with travel companies, hotels, etc don't allow us to factor in late cancellations or changes. Having to manage 1000 people and making late changes - some people want to change, some won't - creates a lot of confusion.
"Ultimately the stakeholders who suffer the most are the fans. There's a sense that the fans are the lowest common denominator in this situation, but we also know come tournament time, the stadiums will be full [for the India games]."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo