Striding ahead

The Kingdom of Bahrain is looking to fast forward its tourism proposition this year as the government signs off on multi-billion dollar transportation infrastructure plans and Manama launches its 2013 Arab Capital of Tourism calendar of events.

Bahrain’s tourism mix covers multiple sectors from business travellers to leisure visitors entering via the King Fahd Causeway, which links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, and international sports fans attending the annual F1 Grand Prix; and it’s exactly this diverse market segmentation that is driving new demand and opportunities, supported by initiatives such as the recently launched 24-hour tourism information hotline.

According to Alpen Capital’s October 2012 GCC Hospitality Industry Report, Bahrain’s hospitality market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.8 per cent between 2011 and 2016, with the relatively high growth attributed to opportunities for sector recovery following a challenging 2012, prompting forecasted tourism arrival CAGR growth of 2.9 per cent through to 2022.

With around 75 per cent of current hotel supply dominated by four and five-star hotels, the future pipeline remains primarily focused on upscale properties, but chains like Rotana and Marriott International are introducing new mid-level brands to the market.  At the higher end of the spectrum, a 260-room Wyndham Grand Manama is expected to open in Bahrain Bay by the end of 2013, followed by the 50-storey JW Marriott in 2016.

Marriott International opened a new 78-room Residence Inn in late 2012 and will debut the Renaissance Bahrain Amwaj Island in 2013, with Rotana also opening its first Arjaan property this year.

Bahrain is also re-energising its transportation infrastructure as the GCC moves ahead with long term plans to create an integrated intra-regional rail network. The country’s rail master plan, which is currently being finalised, includes mainline connections to neighbouring Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well a domestic network encompassing metro, light rail and monorail options.

Plans will be realised by 2030 with the rapid road transit scheme and light rail network costing a proposed $9.3 billion. The 90-km link between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is expected to cost $4.5 billion while long-awaited plans for the 40-km causeway link to Qatar is now likely to come of age just in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The international airport is also due to begin work on its expansion programme this year, which will boost passenger capacity to 13.5 million visitors according to HVS Dubai’s Q2 2012 Middle East Hotel Survey, and is due for completion in 2015.

The total contribution of travel and tourism to Bahrain’s GDP is forecast to rise by 4.5 per cent from $3.97 billion (16.5 per cent of GDP) in 2011 to $6.16 billion (17.4 per cent) by 2021, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).