Bahrain means business
Good things come in small packages' is the age-old saying, and certainly the Kingdom of Bahrain is compact, yet packs a punch on all levels of its tourism offering. The Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority’s (BTEA) strategy to capitalise on its natural assets continues to enhance Bahrain’s international appeal.
In the third quarter of 2019, Manama, the capital city, saw hotel occupancy rise to a high not seen since 2010 with a 3.5 per cent increase to 55 per cent, despite the launch of several international hotel chain properties. This has included the 2019 opening of ‘The Merchant House’, a boutique property owned by the Campbell-Gray Hotel group.
‘The Merchant House’ is a good reflection on new investments and new audiences arriving in the Kingdom and Bahrain’s understanding towards the needs of its business and leisure travel visitors. This Islamic nation balances heritage and modernisation, with a cosmopolitan outlook. Bahrain has a large expat community and was recently voted second only to Germany as the best destination for expatriate workers, based on the Expat Explorer Survey, conducted by HSBC Expat, creating an environment which helps attract highly qualified workers to the Kingdom.
Bahrain International Airport is all set to unveil its new terminal, which will mean the airport will have capacity for handling around 14 million passengers per year
Alongside the launch of international hotel chains and world class restaurants, a number of mega-projects will be completed in the next few years. Work has begun on the construction of a new ‘Expo City’ near the Bahrain International F1 Circuit, covering an area of 1.3 million sqm, with a 4,500 sqm conference hall at its heart.
Bahrain International Airport is all set to unveil its new terminal, which will mean the airport will have capacity for handling around 14 million passengers per year. Gulf Air, the national airline even uses the word ‘Boutique’ as a differentiator amongst competitor airlines, relating it to the design of their products, customer experience and new routes for 2020, namely Milan, Mykonos, Munich, Malaga, Nice and Kuala Lumpar. Gulf Air will continue to modernise its fleet this year by receiving the final three Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners of the 10-aircraft order and will take deliveries of the brand-new Airbus 321neo aircraft.
Already completed and operational is ‘Dive Bahrain’ the world’s largest underwater theme park, which spreads across 100,000 sqm and includes a sunken Boeing-747 and a Bahraini pearl merchants house, all forming a haven for dive enthusiasts to explore and a sustainable habitat for marine life, providing data on marine ecology and biology for researchers.
These and other projects feed into Bahrain government’s over-arching ‘Economic Vision 2030’ strategy, which aims to develop the island’s private sector growth in a diversified economy and allow it to adapt to regional and global markets.
The figures reflect their growing confidence; Bahrain recorded 12 million visitors in 2018, up from 9.7 million in 2015. And the direct contribution of tourism as a non-oil sector in GDP, increased from 4.6 per cent to 6.5 per cent. The first quarter of 2019 saw a total of 3.2 million visitors arrive to the Kingdom, a 3.1 per cent increase from the previous year.
The Kingdom is compact, covering just 760 sq km and comprising 33 islands of which 6 are inhabited, the two largest being the modern capital Manama, and the former capital Muharraq.
The capital Manama is home to the Kingdom’s strong banking sector, second only to oil and a leader in the global Islamic financing arena. The wealth of the Kingdom is showcased across Manama’s skyline, which is dominated by the twin towers in the financial harbour area, and the nearby twin tower complex of the World Trade Centre building, incorporating sustainable wind turbines.
Focus, however, has been and is on diversification in non-oil sectors. The Kingdom is also developing its ‘soft power’ credentials, in terms of arts, culture and sport; with an eye to nurturing local Bahraini Artists, ‘ArtBAB’, is Bahrain’s leading contemporary Art Fair and is one of several investments being made to foster the creative economy.
In terms of the present, Motorsport has become a global symbol for Bahrain; it was the first GCC country to host Formula 1. This month, the world’s elite F1 drivers will again descend on the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) in Sakhir, for the 16th consecutive year. Gulf Air has been the title sponsor of the Bahrain Grand Prix since the first race in 2004; the airline in collaboration with the circuit announced discounted holiday packages for this year’s Grand Prix, available through their web platforms.
Bahrain delivers an array of heritage sites, plus natural and man-made resources; journey through 5,000 years of history at Bahrain National Museum; visit the Unesco World Heritage listed Bahrain Fort. Then follow the Unesco registered ‘Pearling Trail’, which weaves through the ancient alleyways of the former capital Muharraq (named Islamic Cultural Capital 2018), once centre of the world’s pearling trade. Divers can either go in search of ‘pearls’ or as already mentioned, a submerged 747-Boeing within the world’s largest eco-friendly underwater theme park.The Kingdom is not just using but celebrating its ‘boutique’ appeal in a strategic way and is committed to maintaining various leisure and business-friendly environments, whilst attracting foreign investment in order to strengthen its position as one of the most attractive commercial, investment and ever more importantly, ‘touristic’ hubs in the Middle East. Bahrain certainly means business!