Bahrain's Tourism and Exhibition Authority (BTEA) is on a mission to promote the kingdom as a leading holiday destination in the GCC, with plans to attract close to 15 million visitors by 2018.
The kingdom is focusing on four A’s – accessibility, attractions, accommodation and awareness – to drive the kingdom’s tourism sector towards further growth. From a new identity that embraces its hospitable culture, to monthly event schedules and easy entry for visitors from 100 countries, Bahrain is pulling out all stops to establish itself as a unique tourist hotspot.
One of the main initiatives the BTEA is working on this year is to set up seven new offices across the world in key tourist markets, including the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India and China.
'Although Bahrain has a number of unique offerings for tourists, we noticed that tour operators around the world did not have enough information or packages to push holidaymakers to visit the island. These new representative offices would help bridge that gap and boost visitor numbers to the kingdom,' said Yousef AlKhan, director of marketing and tourism promotion at BTEA.
This year, BTEA is taking a huge step forward by introducing its new brand ‘Ours.Yours.Bahrain’ at the World Travel Market in London this November.
'This is the first time we will be showcasing our new brand outside of the region. Ours.Yours.Bahrain embraces the generosity and hospitality of our people, which visitors will surely feel when they come to Bahrain. Through Brand Bahrain, we are hoping to place Bahrain on the world map by not only showcasing its authentic culture and heritage but also the harmonious blend of an old and modern, business-friendly world,' he tells TTN.
Overseas visitors are of great importance to the kingdom as they account for a majority of the overnight guests, with 92 per cent coming in as long-stay tourists while the remaining 8 per cent are one-day visitors, according to recent figures released by the BTEA.
While Asia and other countries accounted for 39 per cent of the total 11.6 million arrivals last year, the main target market for Bahrain will be the neighbouring GCC countries, particularly Saudi Arabia – which accounted for 61 per cent of the total arrivals to the kingdom in 2015.
Saudi Arabian travellers are spending more than BD7 billion ($18.4 billion) on outbound tourism a year and Bahrain is well-positioned benefit from this.
'We have a major campaign going on for the GCC which again covers our new identity as well as the events we have lined up for each month. This year we have an array of programmes and we want to continue that going into next year as well, with a Shopping Festival set for January and a Food Festival coming up in February,' AlKhan says.
'Bahrain has something for everyone. Top class hotels for families and visitors looking to enjoy luxury on the island; Shopping malls for those who love to shop till they drop; Racing at the Bahrain International Circuit and off-roading experiences for the adrenaline junkies, and much more that we are working on to boost visitor numbers.'
Bahrain’s tourism strategy also includes close to BD2 billion ($5.2 billion) worth of new projects in the pipeline. These cover a major airport expansion; development of the country's beaches and promoting the concept of island living on surrounding islands such as Durrat and Dilmunia; and new hotels like One&Only and Al Salam.
The Authority is also looking to tap into the Mice market, with plans for a new convention centre near the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.
The new centre will cover an area of 40,000 sq m, as opposed to the existing facility which covers only 14,000 sq m, and will be able to accommodate over 5,000 people at a time.
The project is currently in the designing phase and should expect to start construction early next year. A tender for designs will be released in Q1 2017, AlKhan reveals.
Bahrain, being an island, is also well-positioned to become a leading cruise stopover. The cruise sector has seen an average of 67,000 tourists coming in as of 2015, which the authority also aims to increase by 2018.
By working closely with cruise liners, excursion providers and Hawar Islands, BTEA hopes to offer a curated set of activities for cruise visitors which would include pearl diving, horse riding and scuba diving.
Visitors to the kingdom can also take advantage of the new visa fees, which has been priced at BD5 ($13) from BD25 ($65.4) earlier.
The new visa fees opens up new avenues to boost tourism, including becoming an attractive wedding destination, which BTEA recently revealed as part of a new two-year plan.
From workshops to fam trips, Bahrain is looking to showcase its potential to the destination wedding market and further identify ways to promote the concept and make it a success.
The plan will focus on promoting wedding venues such as the desert, island, beach and Bahrain International Circuit (BIC).
'We are trying to offer something for every kind of visitor, be it families, solo travellers, to-be-wed couples, etc., Bahrain has a lot of unexplored potential and we are now working hard to bring that to the world,' says AlKhan.
By Nikita Philip
Bahrain by numbers
$5.2b New projects in the pipeline
$13 New visa fee
67,000 Cruise tourists as of 2015
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.