'EDB is offering a new choice, not an alternative'
Economic Development Board chief executive officer Jamal Al Hazeem speaks to TT`N on plans for Bahrain Summer:Q. With Dubai, Qatar, Jeddah and later Salalah festivals lined up during the summer, what impact do you see on Bahrain's event? What in your opinion is different in the Bahrain event? A. Every year, approximately 50,000 Bahrainis leave the kingdom during the summer months, in pursuit of family entertainment and relaxation. One of the objectives of Bahrain Summer is to provide these travellers with a world-class event to which no travel is required. Bahrain families that still travel this summer will likely be able to catch most of the shows, as these run for the duration. In addition, given that Bahrain has always seen an influx of visitors via the King Fahad Causeway during the summer, we thought it would be a good idea to cater to them by providing family-oriented attractions and activities in a friendly and comfortable environment. We are not trying to hold an alternative event, but rather, a new choice. Bahrain Summer is an event in its own right. Visitors to Bahrain Summer will find that it's events incorporate professional and educational elements through fun and entertainment. Events such as Space Park and Race Zone will educate their audience about technical components in an interactive, fun way. Space Park will include a trip to the Russian space shuttle, Buran, which has been to space 25 times. Sesame Street's "When I Grow Up" will be more than mere entertainment; it will teach children about values and ideals. Bahrain Summer has been designed to be a family-oriented event, with several attractions that will appeal to visitors of all ages. Most of the shows that will be part of Bahrain Summer have never before been seen in the Gulf, thereby promising to provide their audiences with a highly memorable experience. Q. What is the total budget allocated for the event? And how many visitors are you targeting during the two-month period? A. The business model developed for Bahrain Summer was built on a commercial basis with expected total expenditure around BD4 million ($10.6 million). This was based on projections of 375,000 visitors, with 325,000 from the GCC, and 50,000 local visitors. These estimates are very conservative, and are based on research obtained from the General Directorate for Immigration and Passports that shows the average number of visitors to Bahrain from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait via the King Fahad causeway during the months of July and August is 280,000. The Bahrain government has contributed BD1.8 million of the total budget, with the remaining amount being raised through sponsorship, ticket sales and other activities. The entire event will be held in a fully transparent manner, with Ernst & Young having been appointed as the accountants for Bahrain Summer. Q. The festival is obviously targeted at both locals and overseas visitors, especially regional countries? Could you provide details on promotions and publicity undertaken by you overseas to attract visitors. A. We have devised a comprehensive public relations campaign covering the markets which we are targeting. The main countries are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. Publicity is being conducted on a number of fronts, including broadcast and print media. TV commercials are being broadcast on satellite television, including MBC, during specified slots on popular shows. All relevant programs on Bahrain TV will also show the ads during the months of June, July and August. Print ads are appearing in Al Youm (Dammam), Al Riyadh (Riyadh), Asharq Al Awsat (Saudi Arabia), Sayidaty (GCC), Laha (GCC), Zahrat Al Khaleej (Arab), Arab News (Saudi Arabia), Al Watan (Kuwait), Al Rai al Aam (Arab) and Al Yaqza (GCC). This of course is in addition to the main newspapers in Bahrain. Children's magazines, namely Al Majed (GCC) and Bassem (Saudi Arabia) will feature both advertisements and loose inserts. Radio Bahrain and Emirates FM will carry audio ads during drive times and popular programs. Q. Is the event generating the kind of response that you anticipated, both from the public locally and regional holidaymakers. Do you have any early feedback about bookings? A. The regional response has been fantastic. The feedback we have received from Saudi Arabia, both from potential visitors and businesses who are interested in sponsorship opportunities, has been very encouraging. Locally, there is definitely a 'buzz' all over town about Bahrain Summer. We have received quite a number of queries from local enthusiasts who are excited about the upcoming shows. The visa facilitations that have been coordinated with the General Directorate for Immigration and Passports have triggered widespread interest from non-GCC citizens. Furthermore, the launch of the Bahrain Summer website, www.bahrainsummer.com, has proved to be a valuable source of information for people who are interested in obtaining show details. Q. What has been the support from local businesses for the event? You had previously stated that the early response had been "disappointing" due to flops of such events in the two previous years? Has there been an increase in support as the event draws closer? A. As the event shapes up and people learn more about the types of shows that will constitute Bahrain Summer - many of which are first-time events in the region - support has gradually been building up. However, private sector participation is still lower than what we had hoped for given the magnitude of this event and its potential economic impact. We continue to encourage local businesses to come forward. We remain committed to ensuring that this event is successful and will continue our efforts to obtain sponsorship.