Investment boom in Bahrain

The Kingdom’s tourism industry is powering ahead with new plans and multi-million-dollar initiatives, reports FRANKIE FERNANDEZ

A new tourism body in Bahrain is expected to give clear vision and direction to the industry as billions of dollars continue to be invested in hotels, resorts and mega freehold developments in the Kingdom.

The initiative of Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the new tourism authority will be responsible for overseeing the country’s tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors. The new authority will work under the Economic Development Board (EDB) and will regulate and develop the industry and market the country internationally.
Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who also heads the EDB, has said that there are ‘fantastic plans’ to reactivate Bahrain’s tourism: “Tourism is one of the most important economic activities which helps diversify the country’s income resources and provide more job opportunities for the citizens.” The government is now in the final stages of setting up the new authority, which will position Bahrain’s tourism industry in line with its neighbouring GCC states.
Bahrain attracted a record five million visitors, for the very first time, in 2004, thanks to a sporting coup which saw it host the Middle East’s first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix race, and so pulled in tens of thousands of visitors. Bahrain has gone on to successfully host a 2005 F1 Grand Prix and expectations are even higher for the 2006 event, which is expected to kick off the F1 racing season next March.
Bahrain aims to achieve double-digit growth rates over the next six years, while equally emboldened investors are putting their money where their mouth is.
Tourism has, over the years, been relatively good for the Island of Golden Smiles, despite regional wars and global economic downturns. In 1995, the tourism industry revenues were worth $870 million. By 1999, its visitors numbered three million, and at the turn of the century, the industry was pulling in $1.2 billion towards the GDP. Last year, the figure hit the five million mark. Meanwhile, investments in the country’s tourism industry continue to boom, with over $6 billion worth of projects currently under way or in the pipeline, and this figure is projected to double over the next five years.

Durrat Al Bahrain
At Bahrain’s largest tourism project, Durrat Al Bahrain, the construction of 390 villas in the first phase are expected to begin soon, while Nass Murray & Roberts has been awarded a BD20 million ($54.6 million) contract to build 13 bridges linking the resort. The villas will be built on the first and second Atoll Islands and first Petal Island, said Durrat Khaleej Al Bahrain chief executive officer Jassim Al Jowder. Work is expected to be complete by early 2007 (all 390 villas offered in the first phase of the luxury residential resort were sold in February this year). Dredging for the first phase is being completed two months ahead of schedule by Great Lakes-Nass, which was also awarded a BD56.7 million contract for reclamation, dredging and shore protection for the second and final phase.
Co-owned by Kuwait Finance House and the Bahrain government, Durrat Al Bahrain comprises five petal-shaped islands, six atoll islands, a central island and a crescent-shaped island. The $1 billion project is being developed with help from engineering design and consultancy firm W S Atkins. The residential and resort city will have 2,000 villas, 3,000 apartments and community facilities, which will include schools, mosques, health centres, beaches, parks, an 18-hole golf course and sports and leisure facilities specifically suited to families. Once complete, Durrat Al Bahrain will eventually accommodate 33,000 residents, in addition to 5,000 daily visitors.

Amwaj Islands
Infrastructure work is close to completion at Amwaj Islands, with the first tenants expected to move in within the next few months. Project general manager Kareem Shamma said all bridges are now open to construction traffic as the over 20 developers push ahead with their plans to build their various properties. The $1 billion project consists of one main island and three smaller ones, connected to each other by five main bridges and four smaller canal bridges.
This is in addition to a reclaimed causeway, connecting to Muharraq Island. The group of islands is being reclaimed off the north coast of Muharraq Island. The development covers some 30 million sq ft, and combines residential neighbourhoods, commercial districts and leisure resorts.

Riffa Views
A new themed residential community around the 18-hole Riffa Golf Course is to be built at a cost of $300 million. Called Riffa Views, the project will involve the development of 750 single family units within a gated community with access to world-class sporting facilities and a country club that will offer residents resort-type swimming pools, a high-end health club and other sporting facilities.
As part of the development being undertaken by Bahrain-based Arcapita Bank, the golf course will be redesigned and modified to championship standards that will enable the hosting of PGA events.

Lulu Towers
Work on Abraj Al Lulu, Bahrain’s largest freehold luxury apartments project, has kicked off. The $252 million Abraj Al Lulu (Lulu Towers) is being developed by Pearl Real Estate Development Company, which is co-owned by a group of Bahraini, Saudi and UAE investors. Rising high from the heart of Manama, it is expected to transform Bahrain’s skyline and provide investors with a luxurious lifestyle at the centre of the downtown action.
Situated just across the highway from the BFH, the project is expected to be complete by December 2007. Covering an area of 200,000 sq ft, it will comprise three multi-storey residential towers offering superior amenities. The towers will house over 860 state-of-the-art apartments that will be complemented by a four-storey car park that will be able to accommodate over 1,100 cars. The project was designed jointly by a group of renowned architects Jafar Tukan, the winner of the Aga Khan Award for architecture in 2001, Cowi Al Moayed and local architect Habib Mudara
Four Seasons
The Four Seasons chain will also be making its debut in Bahrain, within a new iconic $900 million waterfront landmark development in north-east Manama opposite the Diplomatic Area and next to the Sheikh Isa bin Salman Causeway. The waterfront development – also being sponsored by Arcapita – will include high-end waterfront residential developments with apartments, condominiums and penthouses as well as marinas, cafés and restaurants and a number of public areas and promenades.
Its two anchor developments will include a Four Seasons hotel, which is expected to become the most prestigious hotel in Bahrain. The iconic and futuristic architectural designs for both developments were developed by the New York’s Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM), which has designed other landmarks such as the Sears Tower in Chicago and Burj Dubai.

Banyan Tree
Work on the Banyan Tree Spa and Resort, being developed by the Al Areen Holding Company in Bahrain, is moving on a fast track and the project will be completed before the scheduled date. The resort, to be operated and managed by Asia’s largest luxury spa and resort operator, Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, is part of the $750 million Al Areen development being undertaken by the company.
Construction of the spa and resort is coming up on a total area of 112,000 sq m. The desert spa and resort is at the heart of the Phase I component of Al Areen – the 2 million sq m integrated mixed-use project – being developed at an investment of $100 million. The construction of the unique spa and resort commenced three months ago.
The Banyan Tree Desert Spa and Resort will feature 78 luxurious bungalows on a total built-up area of 32,000 sq m, including 22 presidential two-bedroom villas and 56 single-bedroom villas, all with their own private garden, swimming pool and Jaccuzi. Banyan Tree will further incorporate the Saffron restaurant bordering Al Areen Wildlife Sanctuary.
The main spa complex will offer facilities such as the world’s largest hydro-therapy treatment centre, a private deluxe spa pavilion, and a dramatic swimming pool flowing from inside the complex out to the open-air sports and recreational courtyard. It will also house a range of specialised medical and therapeutic treatments, signature massage and beauty services, conference facilities, a library, and a children’s play area.
The Al Areen development will be the first of its kind in the Gulf and help promote the Kingdom as a tourist hub, says its promoter, Gulf Finance House. It is located to the south of Manama over an area of 160,000 sq m. The spa will be the first to open in 2006 with the themed hotels following and the rest becoming fully operational by 2007.

World Trade Centre
The landmark $150 million Bahrain World Trade Centre (BWTC), the spectacular centrepiece of one of the most innovative projects ever undertaken in Bahrain, is fast rising up. The iconic twin towers will rejuvenate the central business district further enhancing Bahrain’s credentials as a location of choice for international and regional business institutions, while offering one of the region’s most exclusive shopping destinations.
Significantly, it will also be the first building of its kind in the world to use wind power, harnessing energy from three advanced turbines held in the centre of three 30-metre bridges in the shape of ‘wing’ profiles that span between the towers. When completed next summer, the 50-storey twin towers will soar 240 metres high and become the tallest buildings in Bahrain.
The towers are integrated above a three-storey podium and a massive basement that seamlessly extends the existing shopping, restaurants, business centre and car parking on a site area that includes a newly-refurbished five-star Sheraton Hotel, health club, spa and array of facilities. The retail element, Moda, is already being targeted at top international operators and once complete will cover a total area of 22,000 sq m.
Behind the scenes the development will also be one of the most technically advanced in the region with state-of-the-art smart systems. With 1,700 car-parking spaces, one of the highest ratios in the region, it will also be able to cater for the high volumes of car-bound users in the region. The development will sit on an island site bounded on all sides by roads. Within the site there are a number of existing buildings and the overall masterplan has carefully integrated these with the new buildings. 

Radisson suites
Work is nearly complete on the 15-storey Diplomat Radisson SAS Residence & Suites. Located next to the existing Diplomat Radisson SAS, the five-star tower is being built at a cost of $16.5 million. The tower will have 121 deluxe apartments of one to three bedrooms, as well as luxury penthouse suites, within a total built-up area of 22,000 sq m.

Marriott Apartments
Construction is set to start on Bahrain’s first Marriott Executive Apartments in Juffair. Costing BD17 million ($45 million), the twin-towered buildings will consist of 21 floors and 94 apartments, offering long-stay visitors to the kingdom a choice of 188 elegantly-appointed apartments ranging in size from one to three-bedroom units. When completed in 2007, Marriott International will manage the property.
In addition to accommodation, the Bahrain Marriott Executive Apartments will offer a coffee shop and a resident’s lounge. Recreational amenities will include a health and leisure club and an outdoor rooftop swimming pool. Other amenities will include a business centre, room service, a shopping service, laundry and valet services, parking and a gift shop.

Gulf Hotel apartments
The Gulf Hotel’s new serviced apartments – currently under construction – are expected to open in February next year. The 15-storey building will house 101 apartments consisting of one, two and three bedrooms. Each of the five-star serviced apartments will be fully equipped with luxury furnishings, kitchen area and hotel amenities and facilities.
The new building is located in what used to be known as the South Wing garden. A glass-enclosed atrium will soon connect the apartment building to the South Wing building, giving easy access to the hotel’s recreation, food and beverage and business facilities.
All residents will be able to enjoy full use of the hotel’s health club facilities and the landscaped poolside. The new building will accommodate some of the Gulf Hotel’s guests during the Grand Prix expected to take place around the second week of March 2006.

Ritz renovates
The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa has just completed a six-month, multi-million-dollar renovation of the and Spa will open this month with 245 new rooms, suites and an expanded Ritz-Carlton Club. Hotel general manager Pascal Duchauffour said the reopening of the hotel fulfils its vision of becoming a top business hotel and resort. “It allows us to better cater to the increasing demand for luxury accommodation in the region,” he said.
Designed by French architect Pierre-Yves Rochon, the new rooms and suites range from 31 sq m to 152 sq m, with views of the Arabian Gulf or the Manama cityscape. All rooms offer high-speed internet access, LCD TV with interactive features, data ports and IDD, satellite TV and 24-hour room service

Other key developments
A new causeway linking the islands of Manama and Sitra has moved a step closer to execution with nine companies pre-qualified to tender for the construction of the BD74 million ($196.3 million) Sitra Causeway bridges. The Works and Housing Ministry hopes to appoint a contractor this month so that work can start by the end of the year, for completion by mid-2007.
At the Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH) – a multi-billion-dollar mixed-use development – construction is on the fast track with 40 per cent of the $270 million Financial Centre complete. Floors completed include the West Tower (31), East Tower (33), Financial Mall (9), and Harbour House (2). The first phase will be complete by the end of 2006.
And finally good news for sporting aficionados: the Isa Town Sports Stadium will give way to a new multi-million-dollar Khalifa Sport City. The city is to be built to international standards with provision for all the main sporting disciplines.