The mood is upbeat as Bahrain’s tourism sector is being restructured and new ways of promoting the kingdom as a clean, family destination are being looked at.
“The good news is that, after working on it for over a year now, we are ready to present a new tourism law to the cabinet to streamline rules and regulations to help attract more local and foreign investment in the tourism sector,” says Mubarak Saad Al Atwi, assistant under-secretary for tourism affairs at the Ministry of Information.
Al Atwi is also working on having a uniform set of criteria for all hotels, restaurant, travel agencies and other related facilities in the kingdom. “We are working with an American agency to evaluate all hotel facilities currently available in Bahrain and to set up standards to achieve positive results,” he informs. “The standardisation will cover the entire area of operation and facilities and it will include construction and completion of facilities, upgrading of existing facilities, issuance of licences as well as procedures for obtaining and them and running the business and policies and their classifications. Once this is complete, we can monitor the operation and activities of businesses and ensure that everyone is following the government’s policy and set procedures.”
As soon as these new measures are in place, Al Atwi is confident that Bahrain tourism will get a fillip. Given its unique culture and heritage, the kingdom is already a popular tourist destination but, Al Atwi admits, more effort is required to be build its image and attract regional and overseas visitors. “Among other things, we are focusing on offering a higher number of hotel rooms and accommodation facilities for tourists, and many of the forthcoming projects will be unique and of international standard,” says Al Atwi. “These are required for both tourists and to accommodate delegates coming to Bahrain, which has established itself as well-known convention centre in the region.”
He goes on to point out that Amwaj Islands and Durrat Al Bahrain are some of the multi-million dinar projects that are coming up. “And these two projects alone will have, among themselves, at least eight hotels of different grades,” he adds.
Formula One Grand Prix is expected to give the tourism industry a further. The actual date of the race has been confirmed for April 4 next year and Bahrain’s top hotels have been asked to reserve 75 per cent of their rooms for a week in April as part of the preparations for the event. “This race will be a big event for Bahrain and we should not miss any opportunity to use it to promote the kingdom,” says Al Atwi.
Among other things, he points out, the 24th Meeting of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) Commission for the Middle East and North Africa and Ministerial Conference on Public-Private Sector Partnership for Sustainability and Competitiveness in Tourism Development scheduled for September 22-24 will go a long way in promoting Bahrain, internationally. “This will be one of the biggest seminars to be hosted in the region and, as a new member of the WTO, we are grateful to it for allowing us to host the event. With nearly 200 tourism experts and ministers expected in Bahrain, this seminar will give us a great opportunity to promote the kingdom.”
But that’s not all. The kingdom will also be hosting the International Health & Tourism Exhibition from September 30 to October 3 and organising other exhibitions over the next couple of months. Besides, Bahrain will also be participating in the Mediterranean Travel Fair 2003 to be held in Cairo from September 16 to 18.
What’s more, efforts are being made to host bigger, better and more well-planned summer festivals from next year, adds Al Atwi. So will these festivals give Dubai Summer Surprises a run for its money? “In a way, yes,” says Al Atwi. “But that’s not the point. We are not competing with Dubai. The important thing is that we should complement each other.”
Going a step further, Al Atwi adds, that since Bahrain’s inherent strengths – rich history and culture – are different from say Dubai, the kingdom should capitalise on them and come up with novel ideas to showcase them. “If Dubai succeeds in exhibitions we should support it. We will not imitate the same kind of exhibitions in Bahrain,” he explains. “That’s the reason why we are promoting the kingdom as a family tourism as opposed to a shopping destination or the likes.”
But that’s not to suggest that there’s a dearth of shopping opportunities in Bahrain. Far from it. “When it comes to prices of consumer electronics, we are almost at par with Dubai,” points out Al Atwi. “In fact, as my son pointed out during my last visit to the UAE, some electronic items like mobile phones are in fact cheaper in Bahrain.”
By SHAFQUAT ALI
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.
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