Bahrain’s key initiatives set to spur growth

Tourism boost... work is under way on the Four Seasons Hotel in Bahrain Bay which will open in 2014.

NADA Ahmed Yaseen, Assistant Undersecretary at the Ministry of Culture-Tourism Sector in Bahrain, talks exclusively to TTN about Bahrain’s efforts to promote tourism...

Your comments on the general tourism scenario in Bahrain?

Tourism in Bahrain has been steadily growing over the past five years. The slowdown in early 2011 due to the recent unrest lasted a much shorter time than originally envisioned.

For the future, we believe we will see a steady growth from GCC and regional visitors, especially due to the wide range of activities taking place around Manama’s position as the 2012 Arab Capital of Culture, and Capital of Tourism in 2013. To cope with demand, we have new hotels opening or about to open, offering world-class facilities. Visitors from further afield will be attracted by our unique blend of tradition and modernity which we believe earns us a niche position in the region.

Moreover, the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) sector remains very healthy and our facilities have won international awards, and we are actively developing this sector to position Bahrain as the most attractive Mice destination not only for visitors from Europe, but from even further afield. 

As part of our strategic plans for 2011, the Tourism Sector at the Ministry routinely participates in large international events to highlight Bahrain’s cultural, historic, and modern attractions to Mice organisers as well as tour operators, airlines and others. Such events include World Travel Market in London,  ITB in Berlin, ATM in Dubai, GIBTM in Abu Dhabi, Imex in Frankfurt, and EIBTM in Barcelona.

Other events which have taken place in the kingdom include the Bahrain International Airshow, the Bahrain International Boat Show, the Spring of Culture as well as the Formula One which is expected to take place this April. Following this success and the strong interest received from the Mice community in Bahrain, the Tourism Sector has included the same and other initiatives in its strategic plan for 2012. 

What is the focus this year and what are the plans, with Manama being the cultural capital of the GCC for 2012?

The focus is to boost tourism and attract families from neighbouring countries, mainly the GCC. We are working towards organising roadshows in partnership with the private sector and related government entities to enable us to reach out to these families and individuals in other countries. These roadshows are scheduled to kick off soon, and we anticipate a very good response.

Bahrain has opened a new dedicated tourism hotline centre (right) to offer information and services.

The Tourism Sector  has plans in place aiming to promote Bahrain as a leading tourism destination and develop tourism as a sustainable sector and a main contributor to the economy in line with Bahrain Vision 2030.

Following the selection of Manama as the Capital of Arab Culture for 2012 and the Capital of Arab Tourism for 2013, our plans and activities will evolve to support this initiative.  We will strive to increase the number of tourists, especially those who are visiting from GCC countries, by: 

Promoting Bahrain as a leading tourist destination.  This includes participation in internationally renowned events, whether inside or outside Bahrain, to raise awareness of the kingdom’s tourism capabilities. 

Working closely with both the public and private sector to attract investment opportunities that would stimulate the growth of the tourism sector in the Kingdom.

Production of  a range of attractive promotional materials to support the private sector and highlight to citizens, residents, and visitors the cultural, historic, and modern landmarks within Bahrain. These materials are translated to several languages to broaden their reach worldwide.

Undertaking a range of activities that facilitate tourism in the kingdom. Recently a dedicated telephone number (80008001) was launched to give the public access to a wide range of information and services, including hotel and restaurant numbers, tour operators, airlines, as well as cultural and tourist events, procedures to invest in the tourism sector, suggestions and complaints, and so on.

We are undertaking a range of initiatives. In addition, we also have a range of activities planned to celebrate Manama as the Capital of Arab Culture in 2012, which include international performances, festivals, shows and entertainment for every member of the family. Our intention is to showcase Bahrain’s attractions to the Arab world and attract visitors and tourists.

What are your plans to tap into the Saudi market to boost tourism?

The Tourism Sector has enhanced its efforts in promoting family and leisure attractions during the unrest. This has resulted in attracting thousands of tourists to the kingdom. One of the attractions was the hugely successful Bahrain Summer Festival which took place in July 2011. Since then, we have successfully participated in the Bahrain International Boat Show and the Bahrain International Airshow.  Bahrain also hosted the popular Jewellery Arabia and even the first GCC Games back in October 2011. These attracted thousands of visitors.

How many new projects are coming up in the tourism sector/hotel sector?

A number of new investments in the hotel sector are under way to cope with the demand. These comprise of 3 five-star hotels, 8 four-star hotels and six serviced apartments. 

The Concept M and Amwaj Millennium Hotels on Amwaj Islands, and a new five-star hotel at the Bahrain Bay development along the North Shore of Manama and good examples. Other investments include developments in Seef area, Juffair and Um Al Hassam, which have been given initial approvals to start development work. All of these support our belief that we are tireless in pressing ahead with improving services for visitors and residents alike, while contributing to the economy. 

Other investments include the National Theatre, scheduled to open in November 2012; the Tareeq Al Lulu Cultural Hall; redevelopment of Bab Al Bahrain; Tree of Life Visitor Centre; and restoration of Souq Al Qaisariya.  A number of activities are also planned for the year of Manama as Capital of Arab Culture, which includes the Spring of Culture, Bahrain summer festival, Music Festival and many more.

Can you tell us something about the national Tourist Guide Qualification Programme? 

One of the primary tasks at the Ministry of Culture this year was introducing a recognised national tourist guide qualification programme as part of a comprehensive review of the current tourism regulatory framework within Bahrain. 

To this end, we have been exploring with the University of Bahrain, Bahrain Polytechnic and Tamkeen, the idea of creating a Tour Guide Certification Programme aimed at ensuring that the guides who pass through the programme are of the highest standards possible, thereby producing a new generation of first-class tour guides for Bahrain.

Tour guides are considered to be one of the most effective tools used in tourism. They influence the image any tourist forms about historical site or point of interest, adding to the overall positive impression the tourist takes away of the country visited.   The trainees will become acquainted with the archaeology, history, religion, flora and fauna, geography, art and architecture of Bahrain, as well as Bahraini society, current and past. 

The Ministry of Culture along with Tamkeen, will tailor a certified programme to benefit the kingdom and enhance the capabilities of Bahrain’s tourist guides. The programme will help positively impact the kingdom’s economy considering the important role tour guides play in promoting the cultural and natural heritage of Bahrain, in addition to raising the standard of the profession and the services rendered.

Currently, we have 46 tour guides, of whom 21 are Bahraini. 

Lastly, the programme represents a significant investment in human capital and improving Bahraini employability and job creation for nationals.

Finally, can you give us some tourism statistics?

According to the latest figures, from July 2011, the majority of tourists hail from GCC countries, followed by visitors from European countries, and finally Asian visitors.

The breakdown (including tourists, business tourists and journalists) is as follows:

GCC nationals: 2.15 million visitors;

Europeans: 152,833 visitors;

Asians: 49,998 visitors.

Also,the number of active travel and tourism agencies within Bahrain currently stands at 85, and this figure continues to grow year after year.