New visa policy in Bahrain leads to sharp rise in business and leisure travelers

Bahrain’s new visa policy has only been in place for a few months - but the new regulations are already having a positive impact throughout the kingdom. Sharp increases have been seen in the number of visas issued – and the country’s economy stands to gain.

Visa requests from both business and leisure travelers have increased. The Bahrain Economic Development Board said that since the October 2014 policy change began, which allows nationals from 100 countries to obtain an e-visa or a visa-on-arrival, the hotel and restaurant industry in the kingdom has grown by 9.9 percent.
Total employment of Bahraini nationals in that sector has now grown to 2,100 workers, and more growth is expected.

“Bahrain offers great potential as both a regional and a worldwide tourist destination,” said Vivian Jamal, executive director-business development at the Bahrain Economic Development Board. The kingdom offers 33 islands, and a mixture of liberal lifestyle and a history steeped in tradition. She points to the Al Khamis Mosque, Bahrain Fort and the modern Formula One racetracks at the Bahrain International Circuit as major tourist draws.

The new policy allows e-visas from 36 countries and visa-on-arrival for 32 others. Data from October 2014 to February 2015 showed that more than 1,400 visitors were granted a visa-on-arrival, and 2,300 people were granted e-visas.

The largest group of visitors under the new policy was from India. However, strong contingents were also seen from the U.S. and Europe, particularly the U.K., France and Germany, and Asia, including Japan and China.

“The new visa policy is just one of a number of economic reforms that Bahrain has carried out over recent years, designed to help make the private sector the engine for growth and drive forward economic diversification,” Jamal said.

In addition to making tourist travel more attractive, the easing of the policy has allowed for simpler and faster access for businesses with operations in Bahrain, she said.

Business and leisure travelers are able to spend longer periods of time in the Kingdom. Business visas are now valid for a month and are multi-entry; visitor visas are valid for three months and are also multi-entry.

Bahrain’s Nationality, Passports & Residence Affairs office reports an increase of 37 percent in visitor visas issued from 2013 to the same time period in the fourth quarter in 2014, after the new policy began easing into effect. Business visas issued over the same time period have also increased by 62 percent in the third quarter and 31 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014.