Mumbai: Tourism in Bahrain is on an upswing. Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in 2017 touched 12.7 million. In 2015, tourism contributed just 3.5 per cent towards non-oil GDP. The goal was to reach 7 per cent by the turn of 2018, but by December 2017 itself, the Arab kingdom hit 6.9 per cent.
Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) is set to welcome 15 million tourists in the next few years.
The tourism sector in the Kingdom continues to witness remarkable progress following BTEA’s inauguration of seven representative offices around the world, including India, in 2017. These offices work to promote the Kingdom’s tourism sector by coordinating with several tour operators to increase in-bound tourism, further positioning Bahrain as an ideal family destination.
“BTEA’s strategy focuses on developing the Kingdom’s tourism brand ‘Ours. Yours.’ and transforming this vibrant industry to become one of the main contributors to the national economy and the Kingdom’s 2030 Economic Vision,” says Shaikh Khaled bin Humood Al Khalifa, CEO of BTEA.
In 2017, the Saudi market witnessed a significant increase in the number of tour operators that promote Bahrain, from 48 to 150 agencies. The market also doubled the number of travel packages promoting the Kingdom, from 200 to 400.
Similarly, the Russian market also registered an increase in the number of tour operators that promote Bahrain, from 20 to 50 agencies, and the number of tourist packages increased significantly from 45 to 1400. In the UK, the number of travel agencies that promote Bahrain, increased from 7 to 49 while the number of tourist packages grew from 13 to 568.
“Additionally, the UK office partnered with Levison Wood to feature the Kingdom of Bahrain as part of his documentary series ‘Arabian Journey’, which has received more than 2.6 million views, in addition to the ‘John Torode’s Middle East’ show hosted by the Australian celebrity chef John Torode, which will highlight Bahrain’s culture and history and is expected to attract 4.9 million viewers in the UK,” says Yousef Al Khan, Director of Marketing and Tourism Promotion, BTEA.
Germany, the UK, France, India, Saudi Arabia and Russia are major source markets for Bahrain and the Kingdom offers an eclectic mix of forts, museums, events and entertainments, mosques, food, shopping and, last but not the least, pearl diving to choose from. Cruise tourism is also witnessing a boom with over 50 reported port calls this year. Events form an integral part of the tourism marketing initiative.
BTEA hosted the Lego Shows at the Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Center (BIECC) in August. The Lego Shows brings to life the world of Lego under one roof featuring millions of Lego bricks, huge Lego sculptures and models. At the same time, Bahrain also brought home the ‘Cartoon Network Live! Heroes Unite’ show, bringing together an international, award-winning creative team which ensured a quality family entertainment stage show for audiences of all ages featuring Cartoon Network’s most popular heroes from Ben 10, The Amazing World of Gumball, Adventure Time and The Powerpuff Girls.
DISNEY ON ICE
Another major event that offered a boost to tourism is the spectacular ice skating musical, Disney on Ice: Passport to Adventure, featuring some of Disney’s most famous characters. It was held at the BIECC from June 15 to 19. The internationally showcased performance featured a line-up of long-time Disney favourites, including the casts of the ‘Little Mermaid’, ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Peter Pan’ as well as the popular animated feature film ‘Frozen’. “We have recently launched our events app ‘Bahrain Calendar’ both on the App Store and Google Play,” informed Yousef Al Khan.
DOWN HISTORY LANE
The Kingdom’s history dates back to 3000 BC. The Bahrain Pearling Trail or Bahrain Pearling Pathway and the Bahrain Fort (Qal’at al Bahrain) are on the list of UNESCO® World Heritage Sites. The oldest and largest cemetery in the world, Bahrain National Museum and House of Quran, are some of the other cultural attractions.
For adventure tourists, Bahrain offers exciting opportunities. Besides Gravity, Bahrain’s one and only indoor skydiving facility, Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) at Sakhir desert, where the Bahrain Grand Prix Formula One Championship, the first night race of the F1 calendar is staged, is a ‘must visit’ destination.
EXPLORE THE ISLES
Two other experiences worth exploring are the Hawar Islands, 30 minutes by boat from Bahrain and home to many bird species, and Jarada Islands, a white sand island strip in the middle of the sea which is 40 minutes by boat from Bahrain. The island appears and disappears with the tide. When it disappears it is only a foot deep!
The Bahrain International Airport (BIA) is undergoing a $1.1 billion expansion, which, when completed in 2019, will be four times the size of the current facility. Gulf Air, Bahrain’s national carrier, has announced plans to double its number of aircraft by 2022.
In the coming months, the national carrier’s incoming fleet of 39 new Boeing and Airbus aircraft will commence delivery. A total of seven new aircraft, five Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and two Airbus A320neo aircraft, will also enter the airline’s fleet this year. Gulf Air’s new corporate strategy is geared towards promoting Bahrain’s tourism economy and bolstering the Kingdom’s aviation industry.
Gulf Air has added eight new destinations to its network in 2018. In India, its direct services touching Delhi, Chennai, Kochi, Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram and Hyderabad has been enhanced with new flights to Bengaluru and Kozhikode. It has also begun direct flights to Abha and Tabuk in Saudi Arabia, Baku in Azerbaijan and Casablanca in Morocco. Gulf Air’s Cairo operations will be supplemented by direct flights to Alexandria and flights to Sharm El Shaikh.
Bahrain Airport Company (BAC) Chief Commercial Officer, Ayman Zainal, said: “Improvements being made to facilities, infrastructure and services as part of the Airport Modernization Program have given airlines the confidence to expand their networks out of BIA. We expect to see even further growth once the new Passenger Terminal Building opens and BIA’s capacity increases from nine to 14 million passengers per year by 2020”. This will go hand-in-hand with the new five and four-star hotels and resorts in the pipeline that will cater to current and future demand.
Sunil Mathapati, Country Manager India, BTEA, said, “Bahrain is an island destination catering to all segments, be it family, MICE, luxury or wedding. For adventure seekers, the BIC provides an unforgettable experience. From India, currently, we have wedding and MICE segments followed by families. This year, however, we have initiated campaigns to promote our destinations even more vigorously. India is the second major source market for Bahrain, after Saudi Arabia”.
The total number of tourists visiting Bahrain touched 8.7 million, a significant number considering the resident population is only 1.5 million. The tourism sector contributes 6.3 per cent to the country’s GDP and is set to grow significantly as the number of visitors and leisure activities have increased manifold.
“In 2017 we focused our marketing efforts in India on major cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, and have been getting a good response. In 2018, we are focusing on Chennai and Hyderabad as well.”
Bahrain is building the biggest exhibition and convention centre in the GCC next to the BIC – 10 halls of 9500 sq. m. each, an auditorium for 40,000 people, a 60,000-seat stadium and many malls and hotels, too. This will become a full-fledged sports city.
MICE, especially Indian weddings, are finding an exotic setting in Bahrain. Ever since, the Jatias (Hardcastle Restaurants) and Mehtas (Rosy Blue) held their children’s wedding in Manama – a gathering of over 1200 guests – more and more affluent Indian families prefer the Kingdom.
Furthermore, Bahrain’s tourism strategy also extends to medical tourism projects through King Abdullah Medical City, and mixed-use real estate projects such as Bahrain Bay, Bahrain Marina, Diyar Al Muharraq, Water Garden City, Dilmunia and Marassi Al Bahrain, where Emaar Hospitality brands such as The Address Hotel and Vida are under construction.
Bahrain’s leisure tourism sector is in the pink with investments in infrastructure touching an impressive $13 billion mark. The figure, covering 14 prominent projects, will be an impetus to the Kingdom’s overall growth trajectory.
In late October 2017, The Avenues opened – the first commercial and entertainment mall of its kind in the Kingdom with a unique seafront location extending 1.5 km – and 50 per cent of its retail space allocated for restaurants and cafes overlooking the Bahrain Bay. The mall brings a new concept to Bahrain, with a design which gives visitors an outdoor feeling while remaining indoors, protected from the heat by an ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) roof, which is a key design feature of the mall.
Saudi Arabia is the kingdom’s biggest source market and both countries are building a new road and rail causeway between them to ease congestion on the existing link. The King Hamad Causeway is expected to cost $5 billion. This will augment the existing 25-km (16 miles) King Fahd causeway open since 1986. Bahrain has 12,000 classified hotel rooms. But that is not enough to welcome the 15 mn tourists it is targeting.
At Arabian Travel Market (ATM) Dubai 2018, Thailand-based hospitality company Dusit International signed a hotel management agreement with Dar Al-Huda Hotel Apartments to operate the Dusit Resort and Spa Lagoona Beach in Bahrain. This will be Dusit’s second branded property in Bahrain as it follows last year’s signing of dusitD2 City Centre Bahrain, which is slated to open by the end of the year. Dubai-based hospitality chain Jumeirah opened the Jumeirah Royal Saray in Bahrain in February and the Reef Resort in Reef Island, another 5-star ultra-luxury resort launched in April.
In line with its strategy to further develop the skills of Bahraini nationals in the hospitality and tourism sector, BTEA has announced the commencement of registration to the ‘Vatel Hotel and Tourism Business School’ which will officially open in October 2018. Vatel currently has 31 schools, 7,000 students and over 29,000 alumni who are a living proof of the success of its unique teaching concept further positioning the school as the first worldwide Business School Group in Hospitality and Tourism Management.
The first Vatel School opened in Paris with a unique and fundamental educational method: having theoretical courses followed by a professional experience using what had been learned in class. To achieve this, each Vatel School has a restaurant and/or hotel right on the campus where students could check their knowledge through professional application of it with real customers.
Bahrain appeals to a wide range of vacationers from India primarily due to factors like the ‘family friendly’ hospitality and culture of Bahrain as also the relatively short travel time from India. BTEA started aggressively promoting their Kingdom in India from January 2017. Apart from the metro cities, tier II and III markets like Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Lucknow, Pune, Nagpur, Madurai, Coimbatore and Hyderabad are also witnessing traction. The average length of stay of an Indian tourist in Bahrain is approx. four to five nights which is impressive.
Bahrain was the first country in the Middle East to discover oil way back in 1932. After 85 years, oil and gas have been discovered again – a whopping 80 billion barrels of reserve. This is certain to usher in an era of unprecedented economic boom. And that is good news for tourism as well.
In collaboration with the Supreme Council for Environment, BTEA has launched mangrove tours in Tubli Bay. Tours will depart from Sitra Park between 8 am and 4 pm. Participants can choose one of two locations, either a tour in Tubli Bay, which covers an area of 100 sq. km and is priced at BD20 ($52.5) for four people or the mangrove tours which feature a beautiful mix of well-protected green mangrove forests and Bahrain’s skyline, priced at BD5 ($13) per passenger.
For over 2000 years, Bahrain’s pearls have been prized as one of the best natural pearls in the world. In December 2017, BTEA launched ‘Pearl Diving’ trips for visitors, offering them an opportunity to hunt for pearls right in the seas of the Arabian Gulf. Today, visitors will only have to follow a simple six-step guide to be a modern pearl diver. Tickets can be bought through the official website portal.btea.bh. They can collect up to 60 oysters. The pearls are then appraised for value and quality, and travellers can bring their bounty back home with them. “The move is part of an overall initiative to boost tourism in the Arabian Gulf,” said Al Khan. “It will also be a way to raise money to protect the Arabian Gulf waters and bolster a more sustainable pearl diving industry.”
$13 bn Infra Projects
- Five new 5 & 4-star hotels under construction – The Address Hotel & Resort (112 keys) at Marassi Al Bahrain; Vida Hotels & Resorts (157 keys) at Marassi Al Bahrain; One & Only Resort & Spa (175 keys) at Seef District; Hilton Bahrain Bay Hotel & Residences (210 keys) at The Avenues, Jumeirah Royal Saray (174 keys) at Seef District (Opened on Feb 28)
- King Abdulla Medical City
- Six mixed-use real estate projects – Bahrain Bay, Marina, Diyar Al Muharraq, Water Garden City, Dilmunia and Marassi Al Bahrain
- Three major retail destinations – Dilmunia Mall, Marassi Galleria, Avenues Mall
- $1.1 billion Airport Modernization Program
- Development of shopping malls like Dilmunia Mall and the Marassi Galleria shopping complex
Bahrain: Things to do in 24 hrs
Start the day with traditional Bahraini breakfast at Saffron By Jena or Haji’s Café at Manama. After breakfast check out Al Fateh Grand Mosque followed by Bahrain National Museum showcasing an excellent collection of artefacts. This museum evokes the long settlement history in different archaeological layers. Post lunch visit the by lanes of Muharraq, the old capital of Bahrain with houses representing traditional architecture and lifestyle, followed by Block 338 a delightful pedestrian quarter and hot dining corner crammed with international restaurants, art galleries and fashionable boutiques, where one can call it a day with a sumptuous dinner.
Bahrain: Things to do in 48 hrs
On the second day visit a camel farm followed by a post lunch detour to Bahrain International Circuit and Gravity. Indulge in the various activities and experiences on offer including driving on the F1 certified track or the karting circuit or indoor skydiving. After BIC and Gravity, in the evening one can visit Marassi beach for relaxation.
- Bahrain International Circuit – www.bahraingp.com/-experiences/
- ‘Gravity’ Indoor Skydiving – www.gravitybah.com/
- Houses of Muharraq
- Islands and Watersports – Marassi, Jarada, Hawar
- Luxury Spa and Stay
- History and Culture
- Shopping – Souks and Malls
- Nightlife – Block 338, Amwaj and Hotels
- Al Fateh Grand Mosque
- Pearl Diving