Good hotels and visitor attractions are in no short supply in Bahrain. The island boasts 18 five-star hotels, including names such as Ritz-Carlton and Novotel, and in recent years chains such as Rotana and Four Seasons have entered the market. In addition to sporting fixtures such as the Bahrain Grand Prix, the country has natural attractions like the Hawar Islands, cultural sites such as the Barbar burial mounds, and two World Heritage Sites – the Bahrain Fort, and the Pearl Diving Trail.
Until now, however, Bahrain has mostly been a weekend destination, catering primarily to tourists from within the Gulf region looking for a short break, and aside from big events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the tourist industry has hitherto remained somewhat limited in scope.
This could all be set to change, however. In May 2015 Mumtalakat, Bahrain’s state holding company, signed an agreement with Desert Adventures Tourism, a subsidiary of Swiss group Kuoni, to create a destination management company (DMC) for the island, with the working title of atBahrain. The authorities have been looking to expand the sector for some time. Properly managed, tourism can be a low-impact industry, and being a people-centred business it can create a significant number of jobs. In 2014 some 31,000 people were employed in tourism, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, of which figures 18% were Bahraini nationals, according to Bahrain’s Central Informatics Organisation. The WTTC forecasts that the industry will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.9% over the 2015-25 period, to be worth BD895m ($2.4bn) and provide 41,000 jobs directly by 2025.
However, it is important not just to grow the tourist industry in absolute terms, but to also consider what form that growth takes. The Bahrain Tourism Strategy 2015-18 aims to promote the variety of tourist experiences available in Bahrain as a means to differentiate the country from competitor markets. Establishing a DMC for the island can help ensure that. Indirectly, it can also help ensure the bulk of the new jobs go to the locals.
String Of Offers
Bahrain will supplement efforts by individual venues on the island to sell themselves by focusing on what Bahrain as a whole has to offer as a tourist destination.
Mumtalakat already has subsidiaries involved in tourism, including hotels such as Novotel, attractions such as the Bahrain International Circuit and transport companies such as Gulf Air. Kuoni, founded in 1906, is one of the largest destination management groups in the world, with turnover of $5.8bn in 2014. Its Gulf unit, Desert Adventures, which it acquired in 2008, has experience with destination management in the UAE and Oman. Thus, there is a great deal of potential for integration in the sector and a much more focused message. Although it has yet to commence operation, there is likely to be sufficient talent available from within the Mumtalakat stable to transfer to the DMC and over the long term the arrangement should help upskill Bahrainis in destination management.
In 2014 Gulf Air opened a route to Moscow, and in 2015 Bahrain attended Moscow International Travel and Tourism Expo. Such outreach efforts display the opportunities available by working in tandem with a cohort of travel service providers. Indeed, the collaboration between the DMC, Gulf Air, and local and international tour operators, creates opportunity for packages combining motorsport, ecotourism, heritage, plus a bit of sun and sand, geared to tourists from Russia and northern Europe looking to escape the harsh winter. This, in turn, could lead to a changed profile for Bahrain’s tourist industry, developing a longer season with more visitors coming for longer stays.
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