No room at the inn in Bahrain


IT isn’t just Dubai. Trying to get a hotel room in Bahrain over the weekend is hard enough as it is, with the Saudi weekend market mopping up most supply – but in the middle of February, when TTN rang round, we couldn’t find anything but luxury suites or budget apartments.

Turns out the Formula One has plugged any excess supply – but despite the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix itself being months away in April, it’s pre-events and race trials that are filling rooms.
And why not? Last year’s race alone generated almost $400 million in direct income to the kingdom’s businesses and traders, almost three per cent of GDP. And the Bahrain International Circuit’s general manager Martin Whitaker bringing corporate activities such as business tourism, incentives, seminars and product launches to the track, like we found, the BIC seems to account for a fair bit of business. Probably exactly what Abu Dhabi’s hoping for.
However, Whitaker cautions against greed. “Hoteliers should realise the country is now busier as a result of the grand prix and other events at the circuit and venues like the exhibition centre. Hoteliers will be a lot busier over the year if they strike the right rate for their rooms. You want to encourage people to come back, you want repeat customers,” he says in an interview (page 23).
The Unitag Group’s Jamil Wafa, who organises the annual Bahrain International Travel Expo (BITE) each May, agrees that it’s essential for all stakeholders such as the airlines, travel agents, hotels, the tourism authority, the municipality and come together and address issues collectively – and professionally (page 25).
Those corporate bookers will probably welcome reports quoting a Bahrain ministry spokesman that some 34 four- and five-star hotels have applied for licences on the island – despite recent decisions to close entertainment halls in three-star hotels and remove hotels from residential areas. And these new hotels (and airlines) will bring with them the need to shape up, to improve service and offer a better product all round.
Rather more immediately, however, agents wanting to keep regular business should perhaps start marketing deals more aggressively – now would be a perfect time to start cold-calling your database and sell Bahrain Grand Prix packages. Gulf Air Holidays’ same-day Dubai-Bahrain deals begin at Dh1702 (about $465).