Race circuit is a platform for business

Martin Whitaker chief executive officer, Bahrain International Circuit, Manama, talks to Cheryl Mandy about the venue and the up coming Grand Prix
Whitaker: The 2008 event will be bigger and better than anything before

Is the BIC still a premier venue for business tourism?
The circuit is very much a premier venue for business tourism.

Indeed, during the course of 2007 the Bahrain International Circuit organised and ran 441 revenue generating races, corporate and retail activities. In addition it ran over a hundred charity and community events.
The circuit continued to play a significant role as a catalyst for the development of awareness for a diverse range of business activities across the Kingdom.
 These benefited greatly from the exposure that BIC generates throughout the year whether it be from the Grand Prix, with a race day TV audience of over 500 million around the world, or as a venue for trade, travel and business receptions.
What other big events are hosted here?

The largest event that the circuit runs is clearly the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix and this is the hook on which we hang the rest of our year. We have a great reputation for running international events and in the past we have hosted the GP2 Championship, FIA GT Championship, Porsche Supercup, BMW Junior World Final, F3 SuperPrix, FIA International Drag Festival, and will host at the Grand Prix this year for the first time the new GP2 Asia Championship and Speedcar. The Australian V8 Supercars Championship is the largest international event after the Grand Prix. Now in its third year the event proves extremely popular with regional race fans and last year’s race attracted almost 30,000. The circuit won the Best event of the Year Trophy for its Desert 400 round of the V8 series in 2007.
Organised in association with the Essen Motor Show in Germany, the Bahrain International Motor Show will be based in the Bahrain Exhibition & Convention Centre but with all the driving related activities run at the circuit.
The Bahrain Grand Prix generated how much in 2007?
The figures for the event in 2007 are yet to be announced by the Bahrain Holding Company – the Mumtalakat – but the independent assessment of the direct and indirect economic impact is expected to far greater than the $394 million figure generated in 2006. The figures underline the value that has been generated following the construction of the circuit in 2004.
At a cost of $150 million to build the return on investment from those travelling to the race and involved in the Grand Prix has reaped reward many, many times over. Let’s not forget that the economic impact for the Grand Prix demonstrates the value from one event – the figure will represent hundreds of millions of dollars more across the whole spectrum of the events that are staged at the BIC throughout the year.
Whether it is a product launch or an international race meeting, a business seminar of a business reception, the Kingdom benefits from the financial investment in air tickets, hotel rooms, restaurants, hire cars, taxis, shopping and the like.
Last year’s Grand Prix was the first sell out race organised at the BIC and we expect this year’s event to be even bigger and better than anything we have run before. Already the ticket and corporate sales are looking very healthy.
Is being the 3rd race of the season significant?
There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not the third race or third race is best for Bahrain. If the truth be known there is probably little difference. Staging the first race as we did in 2006 does have advantages in terms of advanced exposure for Bahrain through season preview programmes from all the international television broadcasters.
However, holding the third slot on the calendar increase the awareness at a regional level for spectators and race fans and having the ability to watch the opening race sin Australia and Malaysia reminds them just what is happening in April at BIC! The balance is therefore very even and will not have a large effect on visitor numbers.
The increasing popularity of Grand Prix racing is perhaps the best determining factor and as the sport continues to grow in its global appeal, particularly with a championship like that of 2007 with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikonnen, fighting all the way to wire, can only help improve the interest and desire to be at the race.

How are ticket sales for this year?
There are still tickets this year’s race at the time of writing but they are selling fast. Last year was a sell out. Visitors are coming from all over the world although the biggest numbers obviously come from neighbouring countries in the Gulf.
We are also throwing in a new day package for fans from Saudi Arabia which consists of a Friday only ticket. Last year, many Formula One fans wanted to attend the Grand Prix but couldn’t because of their Thursday and Friday weekend. This year we’re making one day tickets, for Friday, available in Saudi Arabia or online to all Saudi residents wishing to make their way to one of the region’s greatest events of the year.

Are all Bahrain hotels fully booked?
The pressure on availability of hotel rooms has been eased dramatically in 2008 with the introduction, through Kanoo Travel, of a service which allows spectators and those travelling to Bahrain to rent furnished apartments for the period of the race.
There are still hotel rooms available and we are looking forward to the day in the near future when there is much more hotel availability to satisfy demands. Hotel prices are governed to a certain degree by the circuit but we do not have control of the business of the hotels and prices do rise during the GP (as they do all over the world) but we hope that our very favourably priced apartment programme will help visitors.

What big names are coming?
As usual there will be many household names and personalities from the entertainment business at the Grand Prix in April. Many of them attend the race in a private capacity and therefore we do not usually make any announcements about who will be at the race. But keep your eyes open; you never know which rock or film star, sports star or super model you may be rubbing shoulders with during the course of the weekend!
What’s on offer for spectators?
We pride ourselves on the levels of entertainment that we provide at the Grand Prix and recognise that many people and families come to the race because they known that they are going to be entertained. In keeping with the last two years we are again launching our Grand Prix activities in the two months prior to the race with the tremendously popular Yalla Bahrain! programme. Sponsored for the second year by the Ithmaar Group, Yalla Bahrain! Is designed to provide a series of fun and interactive events to engage the community and excite them about the upcoming Grand Prix.
Community events designed to bring the fever and spirit of the grand prix to the streets include a soapbox challenge, art exhibitions with spectator participation, a motorsport themed drive-in movie night and Xtreme sports weekend.

How do you feel about this year’s Formula 1 event?
This year’s grand prix will be bigger and better than anything that we have run in the past. Not just in terms of entertainment but in terms of using the circuit as a platform to develop business. Already we are seeing many more companies using the circuit as a networking tool and the sale of corporate lounges and Paddock Club tickets is well up on previous years.
The circuit was designed to create awareness for the Kingdom of Bahrain. The logical next step is to use the grand prix as a platform to discuss and generate new business opportunities for the business, residential and leisure sectors. Expect to see new initiatives coming out of this year’s event – particularly in terms of exposure for new business opportunities in the Kingdom. The recently announced Business Park at BIC is already creating considerable interest throughout the automotive world and the Grand Prix will be a time for demonstrating very clearly what the circuit and the Kingdom can achieve.

Does the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix affect you?
The announcement in 2007 that Abu Dhabi will host a round of the Formula One Championship at the end of 2009 is a positive step for the region. It underlines the burgeoning interest in business generated by Formula One and motorsport throughout the region but importantly it will also help grow the fan base for Formula One in the region. This is good for Abu Dhabi and certainly good for Bahrain.
Bahrain has set an enviable benchmark for circuits around the world and from our business perspective it can only help increase business awareness and opportu-nities.

The Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix 2008 takes place April 4 to 6.