A boom in Bahrain

Tourism continues to boom in Bahrain, says the country's

Assistant Under-Secretary for Tourism Dr Kadhem Rajab

Dr Rajab: Bahrain must be promoted hand in hand with other Gulf states

With tourism booming in Bahrain, the nation will in future see it be responsible for 13.5 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Also looking ahead, Bahrain should, long term, be promoted as a destination hand in hand with other Gulf states according to Assistant Under-Secretary for Tourism Dr Kadhem Rajab.

"This double station concept is a must in this day and age of a global village international travel outlook. People from America or Japan do not want to travel long distances just to one destination and they view the whole of the Gulf as a regional destination. Therefore it is essential for Bahrain's private sector to link up with their counterparts in perhaps Dubai or Oman, and even Egypt, to further attract visitors," he says.

"Egypt is a popular international destination little more than two hours flying time from Bahrain, so for long-distant tourist travellers both can be collectively viewed as being very much in the same international tourist zone."

Last year the number of visitors to Bahrain topped three million, with an 8.56 per cent increase in tourism and leisure visitor figures compared to the previous year while business traveller numbers, including participants in exhibitions increased 36.4 per cent.

Business visitors are said to spend three times as much as ordinary tourists.

Bahrain attracts both regional and international visitors, with about 20 - 22 per cent international, representing about 600,000, and the remaining 80 per cent regional.

Statistics for 2000 show that arrivals through Bahrain International Airport increased by 9.7 per cent, through the King Fahad Causeway by 20 per cent and a further 24.8 per cent rise through the ports.

The upsurge is the result of the government's commitment to improving attractions and promoting the country abroad.

"In January each year we go to Finland for an exhibition that exposes us to the Scandinavian markets, in March we attend ITB in Berlin, the world's biggest travel show and then we go to Geneva in May to promote Bahrain as a Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (Mice) destination.

"Also in May there is the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai and in June there is the IT Exhibition in Hong Kong,'' says Dr Rajab.

"There are also road shows throughout Europe during the year which feature Bahrain as a destination, and in addition there have been special presentations recently in China and Japan and we are also looking at a golf promotion in South Africa along with other more general exhibitions worldwide."

Hotel occupancy increased 15.3 per cent in 2000 and an increase in room rates of nearly 4 per cent helped fuel a rise in room revenue of 17.44 per cent.

At present, there are 77 registered hotels in Bahrain, including seven 5-star, eight 4-star and 62 in the one, two and three-star categories.

"We have stopped any further development of one, two and three-star hotels, as well as the conversion of existing buildings into such properties," says Dr Rajab.

"We are still allowing new four and five-star hotels to be built but they must offer something different to the present ones operating in Bahrain. Resort hotels are also encouraged."

Dr Rajab says that during 2001 he expects to see "a further increase in arrivals, occupancy and room revenue, and this is extremely important as the biggest source of jobs in Bahrain is tourism. We have about 17 - 18 per cent of the total number of jobs in tourism either directly or indirectly."

Four-star hotels led the pack in improved performance during 2000 with a 118 per cent rise compared to the previous year in the number of room nights sold. Five-star hotels recorded a 11.4 per cent increase last year compared to 1999.

While the average length of stay decreased, the room revenue increased from BD14.8 million to BD18.7 million through a room rate rise to BD47.500 ($125), although, in Dr Rajab's own words, Bahrain is internationally identified with "value for money hotels as well as luxury world-standard properties managed by international groups with very low room charges."

The present two-year tourism budget for last year and this is BD2.9 million, with about three quarters of the total going on developing and servicing the infrastructure by restoring and improving attractions.

"Archaeology and history including our pearl diving industry as well as many forms of entertainment including water sports are the main tourist products," says Dr Rajab.

"In the last few years the national tourist infrastructure has been strengthened with the development of the main archaeological sites, forts and other things of historic interest.

"We are at present developing the services including building information centres, exhibition halls, souvenir shops, cafes and toilets at the Saar Excavation site and Bahrain Fort. Others will then follow."