BAHRAIN’S planners want tourism to one day represent a fifth of the country’s gross national product (GNP), but if that target appears overly ambitious to some, take a look at the latest impressive statistics: five million visitors this year will have spent over one billion tourist dinars on the island.
The five million visitors in 2004 also show how Bahrain’s tourism industry has grown over two decades, compared to 1985, when a mere 64,000 tourists visited the island, according to Bahrain’s Information Minister, Nabeel Al Hamer.
Today, the majority of the tourists – 82 per cent – come from neighbouring Gulf countries, he says. Al Hamer adds that tourism spending also has increased from BD780 million in 1995 to more than BD1 billion this year.
Bahrain’s tourism industry currently represents nine to 10 per cent of its GNP and the Information Ministry is now working with the Economic Development Board (EDB) to increase it to 20 per cent in the coming years, according to the minister.
Mubarak Saad Al Atwi, the assistant undersecretary at Bahrain’s Tourism Affairs, says that immediate plans are to raise this number of visitors to seven million by 2010. “We can easily achieve this, which translates into 10 per cent growth annually,’’ he says.
Tourism planners are placing their bets on Bahrain’s prestigious F1 Grand Prix to be the vehicle for growth, along with the other sporting bonanzas such as the GT festival and the F3 SuperPrix.
In addition to mega events such as the Formula One, Atwi says that Tourism Affairs is wooing families with shopping, heritage and cultural festivals, to ensure year-round tourist traffic. “Bahrain’s advantage is its size and the diversity it offers. We are different, an island with 5,000 years of history and a vibrant present,” he explains. “We have historical attractions, good museums, a cosmopolitan culture and state-of-the-art facilities. These provide us with an enormous marketing advantage.”
Heritage sites such as the Bahrain Fort and Barbar Temple are being promoted as ‘must-see’ attractions, while new parks and gardens are being built over various locations on the island. One such project involves a major development of its old Adhari Park.
New resorts such as the Durrat Al Bahrain, Amwaj Islands and the Al Areen Desert and Spa Resort will also help the marketing initiative, and Tourism Affairs is looking seriously at developing more public beaches on the island.
Bahrain currently has 90 hotels, spanning all categories, with a total of 6,788 hotel rooms.
The tourism industry now accounts for around 17 per cent of the total workforce in the country.
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