Size doesn’t matter when it comes to ambition, and Bahrain has plenty, with all facets of the travel and tourism sector working towards an even brighter future. By Emily Millett.
Having long enjoyed a steady influx of tourism arrivals from neighbouring GCC destinations, the Gulf State of Bahrain is currently on a mission to broaden its horizons.
According to CEO, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamoud Al Khalifa, a total of 12 million tourists visited Bahrain in 2018 – a figure that is expected to rise to 14.6 million in 2022. One way the destination hopes to improve these statistics is by attracting tourist inflows from other markets, which in turn will give the State’s GDP a significant boost.
In a bid to ensure that the travel and tourism sector has the infrastructure and offerings in place to cater to this forecasted influx of arrivals, a series of large-scale investments are being made, including the addition of a new airport terminal and a plethora of new hotel openings joining the destination’s portfolio.
“This is such an exciting time for the travel sector in Bahrain,” vice president, Sabre Travel Network Middle East, Abdul-Razzaq Iyer told TTG. “The industry is evolving, constantly adapting to the increasing expectations of travellers, which are higher and more diverse than ever before.
“With no doubt, the investments the Government is making in the travel and tourism sector in Bahrain are promising. There are many plans coming up in hospitality, entertainment and culture that will boost tourism and promote Bahrain as a global destination.”
Sabre Travel Network has noticed a number of trends currently influencing the travel sector in Bahrain. Iyer elaborated: “The young generation is now creating a new genre of medium-sized travel journeys. We see the younger, budget conscious generation travelling more and for shorter periods, whether its corporate, business or leisure. Often, they combine corporate and leisure. For example, we see that they are travelling for business, but they extend their trip to include the weekend. We see this a lot, especially in Bahrain, where people stay over to enjoy the entertainment and attractions offered.”
Technology is proving to be a key tool in the further development of Bahrain’s travel and tourism offering, with breakthrough innovations and digitalisation helping to drive the industry forwards with global tech innovation.
“Bahrain is a leading market when it comes to adopting the latest travel and technology trends,” Iyer told TTG. “The technology infrastructure in Bahrain is well developed, allowing travellers and customers to comfortably embrace the latest trends.”
According to Iyer, mobile and online are leading trends in travel in Bahrain, as travellers increasingly want to use their mobile to search, compare, book and pay online. And because tourists and visitors 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 and expect travel providers to know them, their preferences and needs, and personalise their travel experience.
Looking at trends and tech innovations set to influence the industry in Bahrain, Sabre Travel Network has noted growing implementations for emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented and Virtual Reality, and many others in the travel industry.
“We are working closely with many of our offline customers in Bahrain to use Sabre’s global expertise and best practices to invest in the online travel space. Online adoption in Bahrain is catching up to western market levels, and that creates big online players who are also our partners and customers. That same online phenomenon is stretching to corporate travel, where people are demanding and using online booking tools. Bahrain is presenting itself as a destination, attracting inbound business and complex itineraries that need to be serviced and served.”
Today, understanding and adapting to market trends and tech innovation is critical, as director of sales and marketing, Gulf Hotels Group (GHG), Melville Gracias told TTG: “When you work in a competitive area such as Bahrain, you have to pay attention to what is changing around you. We live in a fast-moving world and the greatest challenge is to keep up with new trends and to adapt to them. Digital technology has changed the way we connect with our guests. We can now customise and personalise their stay on the basis of their profile or past behaviour.”
According to Gracias, GHG has been committed to delivering the highest standards of Bahraini hospitality since the opening of The Gulf Hotel Bahrain Convention & Spa back in 1969. Recognising a significant increase in demand, the group has plans to expand the brand and enhance the offering with new innovations.
“We see this growth in demand in Bahrain as an opportunity for our brand to grow and to allow us to connect with travellers, delivering on our reputation as a gateway to unforgettable Arabic experiences,” said Gracias.
The digitalisation of the travel industry in Bahrain is also helping to boost the shift towards more personalised and experience-led travel demands. Gracias added. “Today, every customer is digitally connected, and because of this, they are seeking deeper experiences, personalisation and inspiration. Travellers have the resources to live out their social media dreams and we, as hospitality providers in Bahrain, are here to elevate their individual consumer journey from conceptualisation to conversion.”
Aviation investment in Bahrain is also helping to fuel the destination’s ambitious tourism goals, with a new airport terminal in the pipeline and the national carrier, Gulf Air, undergoing a series of network developments and fleet enhancements this year.
“We have announced seasonal summer destinations for 2019: Malaga Costa del Sol in Spain and Salalah in Oman,” manager communications and sponsorships, Gulf Air, Talal Ahmed Almahmood told TTG. “Operations for both destinations will be from mid-June to mid- September 2019.”
This year, the airline is also set to receive a further five Airbus 320neo aircraft, one of which was delivered in early 2019, as well as two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, one of which was also delivered in early 2019.
Commenting on the official launch of the highly anticipated airport terminal in Bahrain, Almahmood said: “The opening of the new Bahrain International Airport terminal in September 2019 will be a major game changer for Gulf Air and Bahrain.”
The new terminal is set to increase the number of passengers from nine to 14 million per year and is also set to maintain Bahrain Airport’s reputation as one of the fastest hubs in the region.
“Our Falcon Gold Lounge will be 2.5 times bigger in the new airport and we are confident that all operations will move to the next level of proficiency with the new facilities,” said Almahmood. “Bahrain is promoting itself as a destination and as a stopover destination to transit passengers connecting in Bahrain International Airport. To cater to this, Gulf Air launched its stopover programme, in cooperation with Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority, to allow its passengers to stop in Bahrain for one to four nights en-route to their final destinations,” he added.
Bahrain is feeling positive about its future as a tourism destination, with infrastructural investment, technology innovations and aviation enhancements all contributing to its tourism goals.