With the tourism industry taking shape once more in Bahrain, TTG delves into the driving force behind the sector, and what its hopes are for, what many perceive to be, a steadier future.
Following a year of turbulence in its tourism industry, Bahrain as a destination is beginning to dust itself off and emerge as the regional giant it was from yester-year. Already many travel trade professionals are reporting an increase in numbers from their sectors, as highlighted by general manager, Bahrain Duty Free, Garrett Coogan, who told TTG: “The number of passengers flying via Bahrain International Airport year-to-date are 12 per cent on 2011, which is very positive after a challenging 2011.”
Hotel companies in Bahrain also reported an increase in 2012 compared to 2011. General manager, Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, Bert Plas revealed to TTG: “2012 has witnessed a significantly high increase in the occupancy rates in comparison to 2011. The main reason mainly that the country has come to a stable state, and leading events of international standards did take place and attracted a lot of visitors, the biggest of them being the Bahrain Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix 2012, which in our eyes was a success to the hotel industry in particular, and to the country as a whole.”
Ingredients for growth
The dependency on such international events such as these is not the sole element of success, however; companies in the tourism industry must have strategic plans in place to garner and extend this increase. Coogan reported that to ensure growth, companies would have to pull out their own stops for progression.
“To counter act the challenges, we at Bahrain Duty Free set about reviewing our work practices to ensure we are operating as efficiently as possible, while at the same time introducing new products and additional special offers to increase spends per passengers.” This sentiment is continuing within the company, which reports to be in close talks with Bahrain Airport Company (BAC) about their terminal expansion plans.
The said project is hoping to boost Bahrain International Airport’s (BIA) capacity by 50 per cent to allow 13.5 million passengers once it reaches its scheduled completion in 2015.
Speaking about the potential the new airport will bring to the Kingdom was chairman, BIA, Khalid Al Rumaihi, who said: “BIA is a vital component of Bahrain’s economy, with its strategic geographical location in the heart of the Gulf. The development will build on this historical position, transforming it into a vibrant platform for travellers and reinforcing the role it plays as a gateway to the world.
“We must ensure that BIA fulfils the potential and mandate set by Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030, connecting our nation to the world and contributing to its socio-economic progress,” continued Al Rumaihi. “The plans we are initiating for an expanded international airport are essential to Bahrain’s continued development, not only in providing business in Bahrain, but also in bolstering the growing aviation and logistics industry. Furthermore, it will provide passengers with an improved experience and increase opportunities for BAC to generate revenue, which can then be reinvested in the airport.”
A loyal portfolio
Traditionally, Bahrain’s tourism sector enjoys an influx of visitors from both the regional GCC and those of international markets. Even during troubling times, companies have reported that the GCC markets have remained loyal to Bahrain.
Commenting on this loyalty was director of PR, The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel & Spa, Claudia Hardt, who revealed exclusively to TTG: “The GCC market is very strong, with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait being our feeder markets, followed by North Africa.”
Adding to this sentiment was general manager, Royal Golf Club, Susan Stevenson, who revealed where the company’s feeder markets come from: “The vast majority of our guests are Western, Asian and Arabic expatriates based in Bahrain or the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.”
Stevenson also highlighted the growth potential from current projects such as the Qatar-Bahrain bridge: “Once the long awaited bridge is completed, we will be presented with a whole new market of potential customers.”
Yet far from resting on the laurels of the guaranteed business from within the region itself, many travel trade companies are looking further afield to new and emerging markets. One such company is Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, who report that the introduction of their Thalassa Sea & Spa offers clients travelling from afar another reason to visit the country.
“We are trying to aim at individual leisure clientele who are looking for exceptional service and hospitality,” commented Plas. “Our hotel has introduced the only Middle East Thalassa Sea & Spa, which provides clients with treatments never seen before. All that has been put together to start realising the need for international global tourist markets such as Russia, China and even the US.”
A union of segments
Bahrain still remains as one of the region’s busiest financial hubs, with many coming from far and wide, as well as the traditional regional feeder markets, to conduct business in Bahrain.
This was highlighted by director of sales and marketing, Kempinski Grand & Ixir Hotel Bahrain City Centre, Ibrahim Korkut, who told TTG: “Bahrain’s business sector continues to grow, and, largely due to its location, is still one of the most important business locations in the Arabian Gulf. Predominantly our guests are visitors from the GCC, primarily from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, with a current split between business and leisure being around 50/50.”
It is this combined offering that sets Bahrain apart from other dominant business hubs in the MENA region, with its wealth of entertainment offerings, internationally-recognised events and plethora of leisure facilities.
Speaking in more detail about these combined offerings, Hardt further revealed to TTG: “Due to our facilities that combine the needs of a business traveller as well as a leisure traveller, we have a strong and solid foothold in both segments. During a business trip, quality time off is usually quite limited, hence it becomes even more important to have the opportunity for some activities in order to balance work and personal life.
“Bahrain has several unique selling points; it offers something for everyone.”
“We noticed that business travellers nowadays often extend their stays in order to enjoy some leisure time before flying back to their home destination, or even having their families flying in for an extended, long weekend stay. We are planning on capitalising on this trend in all segments, including MICE, corporate and leisure. New facilities and services will offer a wider choice to our guests and will make a stay with us more unique and attractive as people like to explore new territories,” added Hardt.
A promising standing
Following on from the unrest of last year, it must be said that Bahrain’s tourism industry suffered considerable damage, especially with the cancellation of the 2011 F1 Grand Prix. However, this year’s event went ahead as planned, and with the help of activities from tourism companies within the country, coupled with the regional loyalty of its neighbours, Bahrain looks to achieve the bolstering tourism numbers it had witnessed in the past.
Speaking exclusively to TTG about the strength of the destination was CCO, Gulf Air, Samer Majali, who said: “Bahrain has several unique selling points; it offers something for everyone. It’s a family destination, and has seen substantial growth over the past few years in this sector. It’s also a sports destination, with events such as Formula 1, which have put Bahrain on the world map. It’s a business destination, with liberal policies and a business-friendly approach. It’s a beach destination, bless with 33 islands many of which offer fabulous and exclusive beach sports and spas. It’s a cultural destination, with Manama holding the status of the Arabian Cultural Capital for 2012. Finally, it’s a weekend destination, with the Kingdom seeing many leisure travellers on weekends or public holidays, and religious travellers en route to Saudi Arabia.”
Also ending on this sentiment was Plas, who concluded to TTG: “Many news agencies tend to cover Bahrain only to sell news, but if people look around to the country, they will find the country to be an ideal spot in the Gulf, and I believe it’s a destination people should not miss.”