AFTER a healthy summer, Bahrain is being hailed as a ‘boomtown’ by investment houses and tourism leaders alike.
Occupancy in five-star hotels also increased by a remarkable 20pc from last year, Five Star Hotel Owners Committee chairman Abdulrahman Morshed told TTN’s sister newspaper, the Gulf Daily News. “The hotel occupancy in Bahrain this summer was also exceptionally good and [going forward from] the results of the first quarter of this year, there is growth of up to 30pc,” he said.
Morshed’s comments follow an Abu Dhabi Investment House (ADIH) report, released in September, which hails Bahrain as a 'boomtown' and predicts that the huge volume of real estate investment in the Gulf will continue.
Earlier this year, the UN World Tourism Organisation released numbers for the first quarter of 2006, which put the tiny nation’s tourist arrivals at 30 per cent. The same report said Dubai grew seven per cent, a comparison that belies absolute numbers.
Morshed said several factors contributed to this growth this year. Prime among these was the Lebanon war this July, which led tourists who had planned a holiday in the Levant to turn to Bahrain, among other regional destinations such as Amman. “This has contributed to the growth here, as Bahrain is just next door,” he said.
“Bahrain, weather-wise, is slightly better than Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and so for a change families came here to enjoy their summer holidays. I am sure we have benefited from that factor of the war in Lebanon. There were large groups of predominantly Saudi and Kuwaiti families in Bahrain this summer,” he said.
Another factor would be the fact that businesses in Bahrain, compared to neighbouring countries, remain active even during the summer. “People here continue what they are doing in the summer. Things do not die down because it is summer,” said Morshed, adding that the many special summer deals at five-star hotels was another contributor. “The five-star hotels reducing their rates from BD54 ($143) to BD38 has helped in the growth. We continue to promote our properties in Bahrain and this encourages people to come and visit.”
FREEHOLD DRIVES TOURISM
But like Morshed, ADIH remains hopeful that Bahrain will achieve further growth in tourism. Its chief executive officer Rashad Janahi said that reservations for The Lagoon Bahrain, launched only in July, have passed the 60-percent mark.
The Lagoon Bahrain is the region's first freehold commercial development on Bahrain's $1 billion (BD378 million) Amwaj Islands.
“The speed with which investors are reserving this project consolidates our belief that the freehold real estate market in Bahrain and indeed throughout the Gulf is here to stay,” said Janahi. “Tourism-driven retail and hospitality developments throughout the Gulf are continuing to drive the economy. New shopping centres, leisure attractions and hotels are enticing ever-increasing numbers of holiday-makers both from throughout the world and within the Gulf, driving more investment as a result.”
ADIH real estate executive director Nicholas Fraser explained the confidence spreading through the Gulf, suggesting that growth in the real estate sector has been further spurred in recent months with the shift from the residential market towards commercial property development.
“One reason that Dubai is the biggest destination brand in the Gulf is due to its introduction of the residential real estate freehold concept, where individuals could own their properties for a period of years,” he said. “Dubai not only introduced this before other cities, it also allowed a much easier flow of expatriate visitors and residents than its regional counterparts.
“Bahrain has now taken the lead in the area of commercial property, with The Lagoon Bahrain providing premium freehold opportunities for new concept food and beverage outlets and boutique retail, a first for the Gulf, which has previously only offered rented commercial space.”
But more needs to be done to attract more families to Bahrain, said Morshed. “We still can't compare the leisure side of tourism in Bahrain to Dubai,” said Morshed.
“Children who visit Bahrain either have to have babysitters with them or go to shopping malls or cinemas and walk around in the cold air. There are not many attractions here for youngsters, unlike in Dubai, where there are theme parks. Bahrain needs these kind of attractions badly and hopefully as the Tourism Board becomes a reality here, we will focus on that shortage,” he said.
Bahrain has already stepped up efforts to build its tourism infrastructure with construction underway on such theme parks, entertainment venues, hotels and property, and many more plans are said to be in the pipeline.
“The 2004 addition of Bahrain to the Formula One Grand Prix circuit gave tourism in the country a great boost,” said Fraser. “The Lagoon Bahrain is set to join the list of landmark 'must visit' destinations for visitors to the Gulf,” he said.
The one-kilometre long, waterside, retail and dining destination sits in the company of London's Covent Garden and Cockle Bay Wharf in Sydney, with top-flight stores and restaurants open throughout the day and into night from September next year.
Other projects include a plan to turn Adhari Park into a major multi-purpose theme park. More than 70 per cent of the project, which will include a rollercoaster, water park, children’s play areas, mini-golf course, bowling arena, game arcade and dining areas and will be built on a 165,319 sq m area, will reserved as green area. A public park featuring restaurants, stores, a zoo, an amphitheatre and possibly a hotel could be opened by December 2006.