Bahrain’s weather in spring may be nippy, but hotel occupancies and cultural attractions are red hot this month

ACCIDENTAL tourists visiting Bahrain this month, be warned: chances are you will not be able to get a place to rest for love nor money.

The reason: Bahrain’s hotels are poised to cash in on a bumper month as tens of thousands of tourists pour into the kingdom to watch the first Formula One race of the 2006 season. In addition, a cultural festival to be held alongside the race is expected to help further pull in the crowds and ensure the event is sold out. Called the ‘Spring of Culture’, the festival will be held across the island involving theatre, music, drama, poetry and dance.
Hotel prices in Bahrain have soared as the industry looks to cash in on visitors attending the upcoming Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, which will be held from March 10 to 12.
Race organizers, who are booking accommodation for more than 3,000 journalists, VIPs and the Formula One teams, have said that prices are 45 per cent to 75 per cent higher than normal.
The Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) is hosting over 2,500 people from the F1 teams and VIPs, 500 members of the media and 100 celebrities for the March 12 race.
“The rate structure used in Bahrain is an international one and based on all other countries that host circuits,” BIC hotel and transportation manager Abdulrahman Qarata told the local Gulf Daily News. “We, the BIC and the Ministry of Information, have conducted research in order to put the structure together.
Tickets were racing and 60 per cent of the tickets for the Oasis Grandstand have already gone, and 13 of the 16 corporate boxes have also been sold.
The BIC is unable to give exact figures because the selling outlets are located in several countries and there was no way to keep records up to date. But it is expecting a sell-out. “It is the first race of the season and that will mean more support from fans,” said a BIC spokeswoman. “If we compare this year’s sales to last year’s six weeks before the event, there is a 15 per cent increase. The big cultural festival will probably help make the event a sell-out success.”
A celebrity race with such internationally celebrities including Boris Becker, Lance Armstrong, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, rally driver Mohamed bin Sulayem and pop star Ragheb Alama, will take place at the track over two days. Participants will race 10 laps of the Grand Prix circuit in a Porsche, five driven by a celebrity and five by a professional racing driver.
A motor sports art exhibition currently under way at the Bahrain National Museum will run until a week after the Grand Prix race ends in March.
Local hoteliers have defended the high tariffs – in some cases room prices are almost BD100 ($265) higher per night during the race weekend than normal business rates – and said they are in line with the with the price structure agreed ahead of the race, and comparable to other countries hosting the Formula One championship.
Abdulrahman Morshed, chairman of the country’s five-star hotels committee, said hoteliers had deliberately not raised room rates from last year.
Five-star guests are being charged BD150 ($397) for a single per night and BD170 ($450) for a double room during the Formula One weekend. Only the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa will bill visitors BD10 ($26.5) more than the agreed price structure for single and double rooms during the race weekend.
This compares with BD94 ($250) for a single room (city view) a week after the March 12 Grand Prix and BD109 ($288) for a double room (city view).
The hotel also offers a single room with sea view for BD100 ($265) and a double with a sea view at BD119 ($315) on March 18.
The biggest price mark-up among the five-star hotels is at the Crowne Plaza, where a single room costs BD66 ($174) and a double BD72 ($190) outside the race weekend. The Gulf Hotel charges the same rates on March 18 and the Intercontinental Bahrain offers a single at BD72 ($174) and double room at BD78 ($206) the week after the race. Meanwhile, the Sheraton charges guests BD76.8 ($203) for a single and BD82.8 ($217) for a double on March 18.
“The five-star hotels have agreed an allocation of 65 to 75 per cent of capacity to the BIC for the purpose of allocating rooms for the teams, each of which has between 80 and 100 members. The other non-allocated rooms will be left to the discretion of management based on supply and demand in the market,” Morshed said. “This was a decision we have taken with the BIC and the Economic Development Board (EDB) because we want to be seen as co-operative as a group of responsible business people.
'We have done our homework interviewing people in various destinations [where Grands Prix are held] in Turkey, Melbourne and Monza. Formula One fans follow the race everywhere and if they can afford to spend the money in other destinations why not Bahrain?”
Morshed said the hotels were doing customers a favour by keeping the prices the same as last year, as costs within the industry continued to rise.
Several businessmen have also defended the price rises, on the basis of supply and demand, pointing out to hotels in the emirate of Dubai, which routinely raise prices during peak seasons. “Try booking a room during exhibitions season in Dubai, and see the prices they charge,” commented a frequent business traveler to Dubai. “The prices are literally doubled.” 
The Spring of Culture, meanwhile, will be an upmarket festival showcasing Bahrain’s cultural heritage and archaeological sites to the rest of the world. The festival is the brainchild of Assistant Under Secretary for Culture and National Heritage Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed bint Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who dream is to make Bahrain the cultural capital of the Gulf, and place the kingdom firmly on the world’s culture map. Festivities will begin March 9 and run through the end of the month with events such as flamenco dances, world music, poetry and art exhibitions.