Teetering on the cusp of bona fide tourism stardom in the MENA region, Bahrain is currently witnessing significant growth within its travel sector, with new investments and broadened horizons at the forefront of innovation. Emily Millett writes.
According to executive director, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority, Sheikh Khaled bin Hamoud Al Khalifa, in the first quarter of this year, Bahrain had already welcomed some 3.1 million tourists, marking an increase of 11.4 per cent year-on-year.
In response to these growing numbers, some $13 billion is currently being poured into Bahrain’s tourism sector in the shape of various hotels and resorts, as well as tourism and leisure projects, which are set to further elevate the country’s tourism portfolio once they open over the coming years.
“Tourism in Bahrain is ready for a boom,” said general manager, Royal Golf Club, Chris Geraghty. “Perfect year-round weather, amazing hotels, beaches, friendly people, golf courses, Formula 1 and racing – there are so many things to do here. We are ready to welcome visitors of all types, whether they enjoy the outdoors, sight-seeing, sunbathing, golf or learning about the history of the island. There is a very high-quality product on offer. With the amazing facilities and location, Bahrain is a recipe for tourism success.”
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
With all the amenities, attractions and advantages already in place to help cement Bahrain’s place on the international tourism map, it seems that the destination’s convenient location is in fact the key driver for the current growth of its travel sector.
“Bahrain is an attractive proposition for many market segments thanks to the location and accessibility the country offers,” commented Geraghty. “Bahrain is located close to European, African and Asian markets, and is a prime weekend destination for other GCC residents to visit.”
Neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia, as well as other GCC destinations, continue to be the main feeder markets for Bahrain’s tourism industry, as vice president, Sabre Travel Network Middle East, Raymond Vrijenhoek explained to TTG: “Bahrain’s unique position makes it a perfect gateway for travellers in the region. It is easily accessible. whether via the causeway or the airport.”
According to Vrijenhoek, Bahrain’s convenient location, solid status as a leading business travel hub and easy visa processes are also helping to boost the destination’s popularity amongst new international visitor markets, with a particular peak in arrivals from the Millennial generation.
“We see increasing arrivals from Millennials,” Vrijenhoek commented. “This age group is interested in travel and will form 75 per cent of the workforce by 2020. Millennials usually extend their business trips to explore the destinations they visit, which created the ‘bleisure’ trend, and we experience this a lot in Bahrain.”
And while Saudi Arabia, the GCC and the business tourists remain important feeders, Bahrain is currently branching out, taking advantage of its positive accolades to attract new markets.
Commenting on these expanding horizons was cluster director of sales and marketing, Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, Emre Kirazci: “Our key feeder market is Saudi Arabia. Being right next to the Kingdom, it helps to seize a sizeable share of the demand. However, we have also managed to penetrate the CIS and European markets. The first direct chartered flights between Moscow and Bahrain have been established in collaboration with the local tourism authority and are starting this month.”
According to Kirazci, the main reason for a guest’s visit to Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa is for leisure, as the property boasts the Middle East’s only Thalassa Sea & Spa centre, however, there has been a recent move towards the wedding market, as well as multi-generational family travel, with a recently renovated Kids’ Club and a newly unveiled outside water garden for children.
“We have also managed to ignite the Indian wedding craze and rebranded the property as the ultimate island wedding destination, which has already resulted in various largescale weddings at the hotel,” said Kirazci.
While Bahrain works to increase its target audience by adding new strings to its tourism bow, the destination is already leaps and bounds ahead in the technology game, with the latest travel tech trends influencing and shaping the industry.
“Bahrain is a leading market when it comes to adopting the latest travel and technology trends,” Vrijenhoek told TTG. “Technology infrastructure here is well developed, allowing travellers and customers to comfortably and increasingly embrace the latest trends.”
And one of those trends is the rise in personalised online offerings, as travellers continue to use their mobile phones to search, compare, book and pay online.
“Today’s connected travellers don’t simply prefer personalised offerings when they shop, they often expect it. And because people have consumer-grade technology options in other key aspects of their lives, they now have the same expectations of a superlative customer experience from the travel industry. They expect the travel providers to know them, their preferences and needs, and personalise their travel experience.”
In response, this coming year Sabre plans to launch the industry’s first Digital Airline Commercial Platform, delivering end-to-end personalised retailing. And marking a major advancement in capabilities, airlines will have to seamlessly leverage data-driven insights to dynamically and intelligently market their services across all channels, and deliver a personalised customer experience. The new technology is set to further enable enhanced travel experiences for airline customers and increased revenue opportunities for airlines.
“Our industry-only Digital Airline Commercial Platform will give our customer community the competitive edge to truly differentiate their airlines in a very challenging environment,” said Vrijenhoek.
The group is also currently working closely with many offline customers in Bahrain – industry leaders and stakeholders from airlines, hotels, travel agencies, corporates and travellers – to invest in the online travel space and find new and innovative ways to solve travel complications. This includes plans to upgrade its travel agent customers worldwide to the new intuitive point-of-sale Sabre Red Workspace nSRW and an exploration of the growing implementations for emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence and augmented or virtual reality in the travel industry.
“There’s a very strong understanding now amongst our customers that technology will play an increasingly key role in the future of their business – and so many of the conversations I have are about how specific technologies can drive their business forward,” Vrijenhoek explained.
Investing in mobile technology, social media and digital advertising is key for travel brands to stay ahead of the competition in Bahrain, with statistics from online travel agencies (OTAs) indicating that out of 82 per cent of online bookings, almost half are made on mobile devices.
“Digital bookings, either direct or via OTAs, is the main shift we have witnessed over recent years, and it is because of this shift and engagement that we invest heavily in digital advertising and direct all online traffic to our brand site,” said Kirazci. “Social media engagement and community management should be meticulously monitored and optimised to ensure we build and maintain a healthy and engaging online audience. We also consciously manage our online reputation and take guest feedback very seriously.”
Taking advantage of its plethora of attractive travel and tourism credentials, as well as its convenient location as a GCC hub, Bahrain is stepping out from under the shadow of its business and corporate travel identity, and branching out into new segments of the industry.