EDB charts out a course for growth

Bachar ... guiding investors

Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB) has identified two key focus areas – the development of real estate-related tourism projects and leisure maritime products and services – for developing tourism in the kingdom, which is currently experiencing growth in both supply and demand.

The EDB is evaluating the entire tourism ecosystem to evaluate current supply, planned developments and potential gaps, says Jerad Bachar, executive director – Tourism and Leisure Business Development, Economic Development Board.

Currently the evaluation includes 14 subsectors which include accommodation, accessibility (air, sea, and land), maritime leisure activities, leisure attractions, and several other categories, he tells TTN in an interview.

In the accommodation category, there are currently several hotels in development ranging from limited service to four- and five-star luxury properties. 'We are working with government agencies to guide investors through regulatory procedures, and subsequently identify and advise on ways to improve some of these processes,' he says.

The EDB has established a clear strategy for bringing in additional investors. The first step in this strategy includes a market analysis to identify and prioritise investment opportunities, he says.

This analysis is ongoing as EDB continues to engage with local investors who have identified potential projects but have not yet begun or are in early stages of development.

'EDB has established targets among the 14 subsectors we discussed earlier and will be working with our international offices and identified investors to develop the priority opportunities. Investors interested in the Bahrain market come from key international markets, but are mostly regional and domestic,' he says.

'In Bahrain’s travel and tourism sector, we have seen a 27 per cent increase in arrival numbers at all points of entry in 2015 and also see rapid growth in hotels, tour operators, and ancillary service providers. Two new DMCs (destination management companies) have opened in Bahrain, one is @Bahrain and the second is Visit Bahrain. Retail centres are also quickly expanding in the country with unique retail outlets in some of Bahrain’s neighbourhoods, as well as major developments such as The Avenues being developed opposite the new Four Seasons Bahrain Bay,' he says.

There are currently several hotel projects under way in Bahrain. Within the next couple of months the kingdom will welcome the Downtown Rotana, the Ramada Hotel and Suites Amwaj Islands, and the Hawthorne Suites in Juffair. These new editions offer unique products and services in each of their markets.

'Land has been identified for a new event centre which we are hoping to see more information on soon,' he says.

Bachar points out that family tourism is the focus niche market in Bahrain’s development. Each of the hotels, retail centres, and leisure park designs is being developed with this key market in mind.

Bahrain already caters to a large number of family visitors, especially those seeking family friendly entertainment and hotel apartment accommodation.

The events that the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) and the Cultural Authority have planned for this year are aimed at creating unique experiences for the family. The Disney productions, food festivals, Spring of Culture and museum activities are great opportunities for families to come to Bahrain for a weekend (or longer) get away.

'As we know, cruise tourism is growing throughout the Gulf, and Bahrain is focusing on providing an attractive destination for cruise passengers that complements the offering of the other ports of call. Our community is working together to improve services, increase the attractiveness of excursions and build upon the previous successes. Bahrain has a lot to offer cruise passengers, it is our aim to show these guests how the country can add incredible experiences to their itinerary.'

Bachar also is in consonance with the idea to organise big shopping festivals in Bahrain. 'It appeals very much. Shop Bahrain just concluded in January with strong results. According to the event’s director, the festival surpassed the predicted success as it injected more than BD11 million ($29 million) into Bahrain’s economy during the 30-day event, which worked out to average daily sales increasing by 30 per cent over last year.'

On the idea of tapping different markets, Bachar says: 'Our first priority is to look to domestic investors. There are many individuals, banks, companies and investment funds which are interested in the market, right here in Bahrain.

'Our next level of focus is in the GCC, where we have also witnessed strong interest. The third level of investors come from key source markets which vary depending on the subsector. The EDB operates seven international offices which liaise with investors. These offices are located in Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, UK, US, Japan, and China.'

Finally, despite the recessionary scenario Bachar is very optimistic. 'We have been fortunate to have strong interest in tourism investment from the sources I described earlier. There is a bond that many investors have with Bahrain. We have seen a lot of interest from investors who truly care about the country, and are happy to explore opportunities,' he adds. 

By K S Sreekumar