Sound BITE from Bahrain

Wafa: chairman of MEEM

BAHRAIN International Tourism Exhibition (BITE), a product of its organisers’ commitment and passion for the kingdom and the industry, is preparing to host its fourth edition from May 14 to 17.

Held at the Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre under the patronage of Bahrain’s crown prince and chairman of the Economic Development Board Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the expo has served as a catalyst for the travel and tourism and MICE sectors of the kingdom and the region and has been successful in drawing exhibitors from far and wide, says Jamil Wafa, chairman of MEEM, the organiser of the event. 
BITE, which has 120 exhibitors this year, is a labour of love for all those involved, says the 75 year old veteran whose drive for innovation and things new is endless.
Wafa spoke to TTN about BITE and its contribution to the Kingdom.

What’s the vision behind BITE and has it been able to achieve its goal during the last three years?
As our motto rightly proclaims, Bringing the World to Bahrain is our aim. Through this expo we want to tell the world that here’s a beautiful country with friendly people who wish to welcome the world to its shores.
The motivation for the expo came from my colleagues who came up with the BITE concept. If you look back, when ATM (Arab Travel Market) was started, it was planned to alternate between Dubai and Bahrain. However, the first Bahrain ATM exhibition did not meet with the success the organisers had hoped for and the show never returned to Bahrain.
So we took the challenge to fill the gap and have been successful in our endeavour.

BITE has achieved a remarkable growth during the past three years. What’s behind this success?
The growth and the interest we have been able to generate during the past three years and this year as well, make us feel proud. My colleagues and I are passionate about the industry and the success reflects our dedication and hard work. Of course, we had doubts in our minds when we launched the show in 2005, but it took off splendidly and we are extremely satisfied with the success.
We have received tremendous support from Bahrain’s crown prince who has patronised the show from its inception. We are complementing the efforts of the government in promoting Bahrain to the international audience. The Economic Development Board (EDB), the Ministry of Information - Tourism Affairs and Gulf Air have also given us a lot of support, apart from various government agencies and business houses.

Why is BITE unique and what makes an exhibitor come again and again to the show?
Quality is our mantra. We are keen to maintain a high standard and improve on it. The fact that the show has grown considerably over the past three years and exhibitors are coming back to the show in large numbers is proof of its success. Even people who have never visited Bahrain are coming to the expo.

How are you promoting the event across the region and beyond?
We are using the pan-Gulf media to promote the expo. One of our main targets is the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, from where we have received a large number of visitors for the past three shows. We have also participated in many international exhibitions, including the ITB in Berlin and WTM in London.

Is there a particular focus for BITE 2008?
Spa and wellness will be a focus of the event. There will also be some conferences to discuss key issues concerning the industry. We are in talks with some high profile speakers and more information on this will be available by the first week of April.
BITE has a significant MICE hosted buyers programme. This year we received more than 500 applicants wanting to take part in our programme. We could not accept more than 140 selected buyers. The tremendous interest shows the success of the programme.

What’s BITE’s contribution to Bahrain’s tourism sector?
It’s difficult to quantify the contribution of our show to the growth of tourism in Bahrain. Exhibitors may not be willing to provide the statistics. However, one thing is clear, if they are coming to the show year after year, surely they gain some benefit in participating.
We have been able to provide a platform for Bahrain’s tourism players to reach out to the international market. BITE is a window of opportunity to the local travel and tourism industry to the $8 trillion global market.
Bringing the World to Bahrain is our motto. What better slogan can we have to promote this kingdom?

Going forward, what is your vision for BITE?
As far as BITE is concerned, we have set a quality goal, which is of paramount importance to us. We do not want BITE to become a bazaar. BITE this year will cover about 8,000 sq m and I would state that our limit will be 10,000 sq m. If BITE grows bigger, we may lose focus and control! We are determined to maintain the class and finesse of the show.

As an industry veteran, what do you feel is hampering the growth of tourism in Bahrain?
Bahrain needs to improve its infrastructure to able to compete with other international destinations. The facilities available are not enough to draw the discerning tourist or shopper.
Because there is no centralised agency in Bahrain, investors sometimes get stuck in the bureaucratic red tape. Hopefully, the EDB and the planned tourism affairs board will address this issue in a more professional and international way.
Every agency should come together to promote the tourism sector which could make a huge contribution to the kingdom’s economy and create employment opportunities for its young population.