“Restrictions ensure that visitors do not abuse our hospitality”


According to information ministry under-secretary Mahmood Al Mahmood, a new board is due to be formed early next year that will be responsible for plotting a course for Bahrain’s tourism industry.

Its aim, he explained, was to draw up a clear strategy geared more towards ‘family tourism’. Al Mahmood spoke to TTN about new government directives and initiatives that will shape the Kingdom’s tourism sector. Excerpts from an interview:

TTN: We have been hearing that the government is planning a new tourism board for sometime now. Why is it taking so long for it to take shape?
Mahmood Al Mahmood: The Government of Bahrain never takes action instantly. The reason for that is that they study the proposal carefully first, then they pass it on to others to give their inputs and, finally, after weighing all the pros and cons, they take a decision. They don’t take a decision immediately because it could be a wrong decision. This is a democratic country. Involving many key people in the decision-making process helps it to formulate strong and effective policies.

What is the status now?
We hope that by early 2006, the parliament will sanction the formation of an independent, seven-member board that will consist of two government officials and five private sector representatives to run all tourism affairs.

What has necessitated the formation of this board?
Until now there has been no clear direction for tourism in Bahrain, which has resulted in many hotels and operators attracting questionable types of tourists. Certain restrictions are necessary to ensure that visitors do not abuse our hospitality as it has happened in the past.
Therefore, family tourism – rather than individuals – is what the government is seeking to attract. We are trying to implement these new directives and get the message across to hoteliers that they should concentrate on attracting families and look for alternative sources of income.

Spurred on by the success of the Formula One race, Bahrain tourism industry has certainly come a long way. What do you think is needed to further boost the tourism industry?
It’s true that Formula One is a major tourist attraction. This year, we had 90,000 visitors and we hope to see the number increase further next year. But looking beyond F1, the main thing to do for Bahrain is to reform the tourism sector. And, very soon, the tourism sector will become an independent body and will be run and operated by the private sector.
The other thing which will help us grow this sector is the large number of well planned real estate projects like Durrat Al Bahrain, Amwaj and Al Areen Resort and Spa that are coming up. They will help foreign investors to come and enjoy this lovely island and stay as long as they want to.
Moreover, Bahrain has introduced 100 per cent company ownership which will attract more businessmen to the Kingdom. To make it simple for them to set up business, the procedure to obtain licences has been made very easy.
By the end of 2007, most of these major projects will be ready and we expect the number of tourist arrivals to Bahrain to shoot up. There are many other reasons for visitors to come to Bahrain, chief among them is the fact that we have democracy – this has brought us close to other democratic countries in the world and helped attract more people to the Kingdom. Moreover, Bahrain has been a financial centre for many years and still continues to be so. The opening of the first phase of the Financial Harbour will further consolidate its position as the number one financial centre in the Middle East.

Will Bahrain try and emulate Dubai’s example to become a tourist haven?
No, each place is different from the other. We will not imitate anyone. We wish Dubai all the luck but we have our own aims and goals, which we are following.

So how is Bahrain different from Dubai?
Well, they do things instantly. They are faster than us. We think, we study the feasibility of a project, allocate the money and then we build.

Bahrain Festivals haven’t been much of a success. Why did they fail to draw the crowds?
We have had three festivals so far but none of them have been successful. We depended on the private sector to put them together and they failed to do a good job. But now we have taken it upon ourselves to put it together. We are planning it differently now and we will show the private sector how to make it a success.

How will you do it differently?
First of all, we have changed the time. The previous festivals were held during the hottest months of summer (July-August). We have now decided to host it in December, instead. Another reason to hold it during this month is because our National Day falls at the same time and Bahrain is already spending a lot of money decorating the roads and putting up programmes to celebrate the occasion.
So we have decided to have the festival as part of our National Day celebrations. Among others, we plan to have an Indian week with a Miss India fashion show, song-and-dance programme and more and a Pakistani week as well. By doing so, we will make these two communities a part of our celebrations.

Michael Jackson’s visit has really brought Bahrain in the news…
Well, Michael Jackson has bought a house in Bahrain and that is good news for us. Now, many more stars and celebrities like David Beckham are approaching us to buy properties.

I suppose it is good news that Michael is calling Bahrain his new home.
Bahrain is everybody’s home. Here, the king takes the initiative to make people feel at home. I am sure Michael Jackson would not have chosen Bahrain to be his second home if he was not treated the way he was. And the good thing about Bahrain is that we treat all our visitors with the same love and respect that we have shown Michael Jackson.