BAHRAIN recently made a splash in its efforts to promote family tourism with the launch of a world-class water park.
The opening of The Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park sent a strong signal to the tourism market that Bahrain means business as it tries to attract families to its shores.
Bahrain wants to position itself as the Gulf’s boutique destination highlighting its history, culture and tradition.
It is no longer about competition with Dubai – the objective is to be different and yet successful.
A recent Euromonitor report states that destinations with cultural and sporting attractions are drawing more tourists, and experts believe that Bahrain, with its 5,000-year history and the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix, is well placed to benefit from this trend.
Major projects covering tourism infrastructure, including hotels, resorts, theme parks, malls and entertainment destinations are coming up at various locations within the small kingdom.
The planned 45-km Qatar-Bahrain Friendship Causeway has already created a buzz in the market. This project is expected to provide another great leap for the kingdom’s tourism sector, similar to the one provided by the King Fahad Causeway linking it with Saudi Arabia.
Work on the Friendship Causeway, the world’s longest fixed link, will start in May and the project is expected to be complete in four years.
Bahrain, which attracted more than six million tourists last year, hopes for a growth of around 10 per cent this year.
The tourism industry is expected to generate more than $4.5 billion this year and will grow to reach $10 billion in 2017, according to a report.
The kingdom also aims to generate 10 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) from tourism by 2014.
Ranked fifth in the region and 47th among 124 countries on the World Economic Forum’s first Travel and Tourism Competitiveness index, the kingdom is only behind the UAE, Tunisia, Qatar and Jordan in the Middle Eastern region.
Bahrain’s hospitality sector is also set to nearly double its hotel room inventory to cater to the forecast growth.
“Several bodies are working very hard to develop this extremely dynamic component of Bahrain and we will do everything we can to make it a world-beater,“ declared Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa at the Bahrain International Tourism Exhibition in May. He said Bahrain’s shortcomings in developing the tourism industry were “minor, temporary glitches and will soon be ironed out“.
The Economic Development Board (EDB) chief executive Shaikh Mohammed bin Isa Al Khalifa said the government intends to present a new draft law on the Tourism Development Authority in the next legislative term. All tourism-related activities will come under this new authority. He emphasised the importance of carefully planning the development of lands and infrastructure in Bahrain’s fast growing economy.
Bahrain’s unique selling point is as a destination of leisure, free from the tension and the stress of other places of tourist interest, Information Ministry acting assistant under-secretary for Tourism Affairs Fawzi Tolefat was quoted as saying in a report in our sister newspaper Gulf Daily News. “This is where people come to relax and spend their time, away from the hustle and the bustle,“ he said.
NO EFFORT SPARED
The ministry is sparing no effort to make Bahrain one of the most affordable destinations in the GCC, said Tolefat. “Value for money is what we are looking at. A lot of work on this aspect has been done already and more will follow.“
Formula One racing has been the best thing to have happened to the country’s tourism, said Tolefat. “That spurred this drive and tourism arrivals have been growing ever since,“ he said.
The Bahrain International Circuit, which hosts the hugely successful Formula One Grand Prix and other racing events, has already pumped in more than $1 billion to the economy.
Meanwhile, several new four- and five-star hotels have been granted licences to operate in Bahrain. Four Seasons, Sofitel, City Centre, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Ibis and other groups are setting up hotels in the kingdom.
Bahrain is also marketing itself for the international tourism market, with a focus on European and Asian travellers. It is also stepping up its campaign to woo new investment in tourism and to bring in visitors from all over the world.
Tourism officials are also promoting traditional attractions such as bands and handicraft and setting up familiarisation trips to Bahrain from Europe and other Arab countries.
Tolefat said Tourism Affairs was also conducting various activities with the private sector and would be inviting shipping lines, national couriers, members of the Press, tourism guides and operators from various countries to visit Bahrain.
In another development, some members of the parliament are making a move to open up more islands for citizens and tourists.
The parliament’s public utilities and environment affairs committee chairman Jawad Fairooz said Bahrain’s islands were rich in natural resources and citizens and tourists should be able to access and enjoy them. He said the committee was studying eco-tourism oppor-tunities and was currently collecting infor-mation about areas rich in natural resources, such as Fasht Al Adhm and Fasht Al Jarem.
This Eid Bahrain received a greater number of visitors from the GCC, particularly from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. While the government has announced major projects to expand the airport and build new roads and facilities, the private sector is moving ahead with many projects that will boost tourism.
The kingdom expects to complete the first expansion phase of the Bahrain International Airport by 2010, raising capacity to 15 million passengers.Tourism projects in Al Areen, Durrat Al Bahrain and Amwaj Islands are keenly awaited by the industry.
Also on the cards are plans for infrastructure to hold water sports events and world-class equestrian facilities. The Bahrain City Centre which is expected to open next year will further boost the shopping attractions in the kingdom.