Bahrain’s tourism industry is in the spotlight and has been witnessing monumental growth in 2019, with visitor numbers expected to escalate further in the years to come. Tatiana Tsierkezou writes.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a popular choice among MENA travellers seeking something a little different but not too different from what they are accustomed to. And while this market is of fundamental importance to the industry – and always will be – tourism movers and shakers are also focusing on the bigger picture, with plans in place to attract travellers from all four corners of the globe.
Stakeholders are doing all that’s within their power to refine the country’s tourism dexterity and are working to increase its portfolio of properties, especially the high-end hotels that MENA travellers are known to love.
Accor’s ground-breaking announcement in July regarding the upcoming debut of the hospitality giant’s Raffles brand (following an agreement with GFH Financial Group), is the perfect example of this.
Meanwhile, a month earlier, GFH Financial Group also formalised an operation agreement with H Hotels & Resorts Management for a new five-star property – H Hotel at Harbour Row at the Harbour Row waterfront project in Manama – that will comprise of hotel rooms and residences.
Hospitality projects aside, Bahrain International Airport is also undergoing unprecedented expansion, with a new state-of-the-art terminal due to open very soon. This is expected to streamline operations and cater for the highly anticipated influx of tourists.
Referring to the constant evolution of Bahrain’s tourism sector, sales and marketing director, Mövenpick Hotel Bahrain, Karim El Berkchi told TTG: “The tourism sector will most certainly be a key driver for future economic growth and the Kingdom of Bahrain has already set out a plan and vision until the year 2030 that starts with developing the airport and expanding it, as well as inviting different international development companies to invest in Bahrain.”
Also reflecting on Bahrain’s industry growth was director of sales and marketing, The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain, Jeremy Canivet: “The Kingdom of Bahrain is fast becoming a top tourist destination in the Middle East and GCC region over our neighbours. The Kingdom continues to invest in hotel and beachfront infrastructure, top dining options and cultural tourism attractions.”
Canivet explained that popular international events, such as the Bahrain Grand Prix, are also making the country a highly sought after destination, as well as various activities such as underwater adventures and scuba diving, with specialties like Pearl Diving, and the newest attraction, the world’s largest underwater theme park – developed in close cooperation between the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) and the Supreme Council for Environment.
The latter, which is known as Dive Bahrain, spans an area of 100,000m2 and comprises a sunken, 70 metre-long, decommissioned Boeing 747 aircraft. Avid divers can delight in exploring the largest aircraft ever to be intentionally submerged, as well as a replica of a traditional Bahraini pearl merchant’s house, artificial coral reefs and other sculptures. All of the above has been carefully planned to offer a safe haven for coral reef growth and to ensure a sustainable habitat for marine life.
A big deal for Bahrain, the new, eco-friendly attraction is expected to entice travellers the world over and is anticipated to become an international tourist hotspot due to its size, its location and of course, its uniqueness.
THE FIGURES SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
Recent figures released by BTEA revealed that 3.2 million tourists visited Bahrain in Q1 of this year, while the frequency of international arrivals hit 3.5 million, which represents a 2.1 per cent jump on the corresponding period last year. TTG sought to find out exactly what contributed to this significant
figure, and the answer was: a two per cent rise increase in visitors arriving via the King Fahad Causeway (2.8 million); a three per cent rise in arrivals at Bahrain International Airport (299,196); and a whopping 82 per cent increase in visitors arriving via Khalifa Bin Salman Port (81,371).
But what has been influencing travellers’ decisions to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain? El Berkchi puts it down to BTEA’s well thought out initiatives, including the launch of its ‘Bahrain. Ours. Yours.’ campaign in 2016 and initiatives such as the easing of visa restrictions, which has had a very positive impact on arrival figures.
On the whole, the sentiments regarding the country’s tourism industry in 2019 are positive, with many hoteliers expressing their content with their business performance.
Reflecting on the year, senior vice president, operations and development – Middle East, Africa and India, Swiss-Belhotel International, Laurent Voivenel told TTG: “Although challenging, 2019 has been a very productive year. Extra efforts have been put in practice to keep the financial performance of all our hotels in line with the business objectives, which is absolutely remarkable given the challenging market conditions. Comparing the cumulative performance of our hotels demonstrates that nearly all our properties achieved a healthy occupancy while keeping the ADR in control. In the coming months, increase in volume of both leisure and corporate travellers will continue to drive demand.”
Voivenel explained that the next few months will be of great significance to Swiss-Belhotel International. “We are very excited to introduce four new brands in the Middle East region this year, from our unique and diversified portfolio of 14 brands, giving greater choice to our guests. This creates a tremendous opportunity for growth as we expand our brand portfolio in the market, offering more options to both owners and travellers in more destinations. For the first time in the region we have introduced brands such as Grand Swiss-Belresort, Swiss-Belboutique, Swiss-Belsuites and Swiss- Belinn,” he said.
Some of Swiss-Belhotel International’s Bahrain-based properties that have just opened, are in pre-opening stages or in advanced stages of development include Grand Swiss-Belresort Seef, Bahrain; Swiss-Belresidences Juffair, Bahrain; and Swiss-Belsuites Admiral Juffair, Bahrain.
Moving on, The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain has also experienced a great year, according to Canivet. “We have had a positive 2019 with a steady outlook in our corporate and business sector, as well as an increase in our leisure markets,” he told TTG.
Looking ahead, he shared that the property is anticipating another successful season; is welcoming a new chef de cuisine at the award-winning Primavera restaurant; and is looking forward to celebrating its 25th anniversary in November and beyond.
Referring to the approaching festive season, Canivet shared that the ‘sunny paradise’ that is the hotel will transform into a decorative winter wonderland.
Having also experienced a positive 2019 so far, Mövenpick Hotel Bahrain has been staying ahead of the game by ensuring it delivers consistent quality and an extremely high level of services. El Berkchi explained that the high-end hotel is constantly coming up with innovative ideas and activities, ensuring that it goes above and beyond guests’ expectations.
But something very exciting is happening at the popular Mövenpick Hotel Bahrain.
El Berkchi shed light on this exclusively: “We are currently undergoing a major hotel renovation. I can assure you that our new and improved hotel will have state of art facilities and with the outstanding team around me, I have no doubt that we will provide excellent service in a genuinely friendly and luxurious environment.”
A significant project for the hotel, the upcoming renovation aims to position Mövenpick Hotel Bahrain at the top of the hospitality game and is expected to be completed by Q4 of this year.
The movers and shakers of Bahrain’s tourism industry really have the right idea, and growth is inevitable. As Voivenel of Swiss-Belhotel International aptly said, ‘the country has all the fundamentals to be an international tourist destination.’