Bahrain poised to commission tourism body

Mohammed Nass, chief executive, Tourism Marketing & Promotion Project, Bahrain, spoke to SHALU CHANDRAN

What is in the pipeline for Bahrain tourism?
My mission is to commission a tourism body and formulate a ‘Bahrain Tourism Authority.’

This is very important for the future. The body has been approved by the ministry, so now we have put it into action.  We are hoping for an approval from Parliament within six months. Once we have that body, we are in a position to plan better.
On an organisational aspect – it will give us the freedom of recruiting more people and financial dependency to execute more projects.
It is important for us to set this foundation as it will help us move more independently.
We participate at many international exhibitions and want to launch a long term tourism strategy based on value change. We already have the Bahrain Grand Prix and the Spring of Culture and would like to build on that.
It is also very important for us to work in partnership with the private sector.

What are the tourism arrivals into Bahrain you have witnessed in the year so far?
In 2007, we saw approximately 560,715 non-GCC tourists and approx 4,951,690 GCC tourists into the country. This is about 7 to 10 per cent of growth from the year before, however our goal is to see an increase in arrival growth rate by 25 per cent. There is a huge potential.
We work closely with WTO and participate in their workshops and seminars programmes, where we try to learn from other destinations about tourism growth. We are also working closely with them to set a hotel classification system. It is a three year project which includes assessing, training staff and implementing the classification system.
Certification will elevate the quality of hotels; give us better hotels and better rooms. Most of the five star properties usually abide by these standards, but it is the level of the rest of the hotels that we want to upgrade for our tourists.

Bahrain has traditionally promoted itself has a family destination. Is this still the case?
Bahrain is a city which has multiple dimensions for tourism. My domain is to focus on leisure tourism. The Economic Development Board, in charge of overseeing the economic development of Bahrain, has launched the “Business Friendly Bahrain” campaign, which has been very well received.
From a business tourism perspective, they are looking at investors, but for me they are potential leisure tourists, because when the work is over they look at the leisure side of Bahrain.
Cultural tourism is also fast gaining popularity in Bahrain. We have a rich Dilmun civilisation and a variety of old heritage sites like the Al Fateh Grand Mosque, Bahrain Fort and Qal’at Al-Bahrain which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There is also the sports tourism aspect with the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Bahrain International Circuit is the centre of motorsport in the Middle East and provides activities like go-karting, quad-biking and other off-road activities.
We also work together with our private partners like Banyan Tree, Lost Paradise of Dilmun and Adhari Park and promote them as Bahrain offerings.
There are number of new hotel properties in the pipeline, the first one to open will be a Kempinski in 2009 followed by the Four Seasons in 2010, a Renaissance in the pipeline and many more new luxury hotels in our projects like Durrat Al Bahrain, Bahrain Bay and the Bahrain Financial harbour.
Meetings and incentive is also gaining popularity with most of the new hotels offering venues for events and the BIC providing scope for incentives.
The airlines are my logistical side and we are constantly working with them.

Are there plans to ban sale of alcohol in the country?
Bahrain is a cosmopolitan country and respects all nationalities and will work in tangent. When we feel that organisations are mis-behaving and do not abide by their license, we will stop that organisation. The country does not have a regulatory body to control liquor licenses and will abide in the local values and discipline itself to ensure that it remains a safe country for its tourists.

What new tourism developments does Bahrain have?
Plenty. There is the Salam Resort Bahrain, developing in the south of Bahrain. Phase one will include a 288 room luxury beach hotel, seven waterfront hotel villas, a 20,000 sq m state-of-the-art conference centre and six royal villas on a private island. The second phase will encompass a residential community and retail outlets set in traditional souk style.
There is the Amwaj island developing rapidly and will house about six to seven five star hotels. The construction of ‘The Lagoon’ Bahrain project, is underway and will house a waterside retail and dining destination on Amwaj Islands.
The Bahrain Exhibition and Conference Authority (BECA) is planning a $664 million conference centre at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC). This project will open in 2011 and will be the first exhibition centre next to a Formula One track. It is a clear example of the scope for MICE business in Bahrain.

What is Bahrain’s biggest selling point for visitors?
Bahrain’s USP is the islands history, its hospitality and friendliness. We have a healthy growing tourism market and a vibrant corporate sector. We want to change the landscape of the tourism industry in Bahrain and we believe that 2010, we will have a new destination with much more to offer for families from the GCC and our international tourists.