Bahrain seeks ‘boutique’ tourism positioning

Even as Bahrain readies for a new tourism board, the country is working on a new tourism strategy that give the Kingdom its own positioning in the region. HE Dr Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, Bahrain’s Minister of Information, fills TTN in on the country’s plans
Strands of history: a Bahraini man weaves a basket in traditional manner

What is Bahrain’s tourism strategy?
Under the directives of HH the Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and in cooperation with the Economic Development Board, the Ministry of Information has recently completed a study with the international consulting company, International Development Ireland, that sets out the strategy and master plan for tourism in Bahrain.

This study is currently under review by all stakeholders and will go through a public debate in a couple of months. In essence, the strategy is to position Bahrain as a ‘boutique’ destination in the Gulf, showcasing its unique history, culture, heritage and focusing on family and business tourism.

What are you seeking to theme your tourism around? Families, shopping, history…?
This master plan will focus on family and business tourism, targeting the region and some European countries. The private sector is doing a greater job in introducing new facilities. As a government, we will work to focus on upgrading our culture and heritage sites, as Bahrain is known for its attractive historic and heritage product. Recently we have had the site of Bahrain Fort nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The inscription of Qal’at al-Bahrain, ancient harbour and capital of Delmun on the World Heritage List underscores the significant location of Bahrain as an important crossroads and a merging point for world cultures. This new site of an ancient, indeed a complete historic cultural complex will soon turn into a thrilling tourist attraction point for visitors from the Gulf region and beyond providing tourist industry in Bahrain with an added fascinating value. The Sector for Culture and Heritage is working on enlisting more sites. We are also working on the preservation and management of these sites and offering visitors state of the art museums. This is in addition to the efforts being made by the private sector and NGOs to revive and restore the old city of Muharraq and transform it into a tourist attraction through cultural centres and commercial activities. Other sites will be covered by such endeavours in the near future.

Are you looking at co-branding with other countries in the region, such as Qatar or the UAE?
We welcome opportunities to work with other countries in the region, and we are keen on marketing Bahrain as a twin destination with other attractions in the region that complement our product and make our offers more attractive. We strongly believe that each country in the region has its own selling point and I believe that regional tourism contributes to the success of all destinations.

Will Saudi Arabia’s new tourist visas for families impact Bahrain?
We welcome any initiative that would boost tourism in the region and Bahrain will certainly benefit from Saudi Arabia’s new tourist visas for families. The Saudi market is very important for us, and Bahrain is positioned as almost a domestic destination for Saudis and visitors to Saudi Arabia. As a significant transit point, Bahrain is an outstanding gateway to several countries and new overtures will certainly have a positive impact. 

When can we expect the Bahrain Tourism Board to be set up and running, actually setting policy and making decisions?
We have been working diligently under the directives of HH Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, and we anticipate the Bahrain Tourism Board will be in action by the beginning of next year. We are now in the final stages of setting it up.

What about tourist numbers? Did the situation in Lebanon help increase the numbers over the summer?
It did. But Bahrain has always had long-term strategies to boost its tourism figures and does not depend on the misfortunes of other countries or regions to increase arrivals. Such strategies include a constant amelioration of products offered in the summer season.

Does Bahrain benefit from the high prices of hotel rooms in Dubai?
From what we hear from hotels and businesses, we feel that the high prices and the traffic congestion in some other cities have helped us since we come as a natural alternative to customers who want to operate in this region thanks to our more reasonable prices. Yet we do not depend on that as a strategy because we think that prices might settle in these cities with the large supply that is under construction.  We therefore focus more on our own selling points.

Where are the majority of the tourists coming from? 
Most of our tourists are from the Gulf region, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. We now look forward to boosting figures from other countries through a more visible participation in international forums, conferences and exhibitions.

What is the leisure-business arrivals mix?
Bahrain has both, although right now, business-related tourism has higher figures. Bahrain is widely appreciated as a destination for regional and international conferences and exhibitions.

What are the new emerging source markets for Bahrain? Will increased connectivity to North America by regional airlines such as Emirates and Etihad help bring in tourists?
Bahrain believes that new routes will open new windows, and we are exerting efforts to encourage this trend. All regions could be very important markets of course, and we will be looking at niches in the MICE industry.  We have plans to enter into partnerships with European tour operators to encourage tourists from their respective countries to come to Bahrain.

There are several new hotels, theme parks and towns being planned for Bahrain. Could you give us a quick overview of the new tourism projects in Bahrain?
Bahrain is witnessing a robust growth in tourism and has several ambitious projects. They include Banyan Tree, Four Seasons, Kempinski, Renaissance, Durrat Al Bahrain and many more.

What are your major plans for 2007?
To make sure that there is an enabled Tourism Development Board that will set a clear development and marketing strategy for tourism in Bahrain. This is our priority at the moment as a government. There is a lot of political support for this board from both the leadership and the government and the private sector too. We want to make sure that it is a strong institution that will make a difference. 

What message do you have for tour operators and travel agents trying to sell Bahrain as a destination? 
We intend to work with tour operators and travel agents as well as support them in order to market and promote the country. With the establishment of the TDB we will be able to give them better support than what we have had to date. With all the new developments coming on board by the private sector and with all the work we are doing to highlight our culture and heritage, Bahrain will reinvent and reintroduce itself in the coming couple of years and we will need their support to put our country on display again to the world.

Do you have plans to open new tourist offices around the world?
We are currently working actively with our embassies abroad, but once established, the Tourism Development Board will draw the marketing map which will include market-based representation companies or tourist offices wherever we feel there is a genuine need and strong potential.