Tourism is booming in the small gulf kingdom of Bahrain, with officials projecting that tourism in the country could be worth $1 billion by 2020.
Leaders are citing an eight percent increase in visits to the kingdom last fall, with peak tourism of 1.4 million people in August.
Bahrain is also funding tourism infrastructure to the tune of over $1 million a year, including a modernization project that should enable Bahrain International Airport can handle more arrivals. Analysts are now looking at hospitalities businesses to see how the country can handle a bigger influx.
At the same time, the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority (BTEA) is creating a vibrant marketing campaign as a country gears up for Arabian Travel Market 2017 (ATM), an annual event held in April at the Dubai World Trade Center.
“The BTEA now operates seven official representation offices worldwide, with a focus on source markets in Europe and Asia and will continue to work hand-in-hand with hotels, tour operators and cruise lines to achieve its objectives,” Simon Press, senior exhibition director of ATM, said.
Although much of the country’s efforts to develop tourism revolve around modern amenities, Bahrain experiences a significant amount of tourism based on traditional culture, including an influx of travelers during Islamic holidays like Eid Al-Fitr, Eid Al-Adha and the Islamic New Year.
These holy days along with Ashura are among many cultural and religious tourist attractions, including museums and mosques, according to travel web site Mahmood’s Den.
“There is a significant scope for Bahrain to expand its tourism sector,” Vishal Kumar Manoria, assistant manager of investment research and analytics at Aranca, told the Gulf News Journal. “Visitor numbers are growing and the government seeks to boost Bahrain's image as a tourist-friendly country.”
Manoria has researched various sectors and markets in the Middle East and Europe for leading asset management and private equity firms.
Manoria cited the airport expansion as well as other projects such as the Qatar-Bahrain Friendship Bridge and several projects involving Formula One racing as new attractions for the kingdom. Projects like these, he said, can drive higher visitor numbers and increase the average stay per tourist, bringing more travel dollars into the kingdom.
“Given Bahrain’s close proximity to Saudi Arabia, its abundant tourist attractions, as well as open culture and liberal regulations, we think Bahrain should most likely achieve its target of 15.8 million annual visitors by 2018,” Manoria said. “Growing investment in the tourism sector is also likely to stimulate economic growth by benefitting hospitality, retail and other related sectors.”
If Bahrain can boost tourism, it can follow in the footsteps of other gulf coast countries that have been diversifying their economies in order to reduce dependence oil and gas revenues in a world where fossil fuels no longer hold the sway the way they used to.