Industry Update
Opinion Article29 January 2018

Focus on the Future - Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB)

By Jerad Bachar, Executive Director - Tourism Sector, Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB)

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In the lead up to the 2018 Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC), we asked a number of industry partners what their focus for the future is.

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The major driver of innovation that everyone is discussing in the region is, of course, the creation of a sustainable post-oil future, as economic diversification creates exciting opportunities for international investors across sectors, including tourism and hospitality. Bahrain has been a pioneer of diversification for decades, as the first GCC nation to develop a diversification strategy back in the 1960s, and tourism, which contributed around 6.3% to non-oil GDP in 2016, is an important component of the Kingdom's post-oil vision.

A 'focus for the future' at the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) is to realise the tourism sector's growth potential and build on its strong foundation. For 2018 we are looking at investing in infrastructure and development to inspire visitors to stay longer, and creating a supportive environment for innovation to flourish.

At a time of uncertain economic prospects around the world, the Middle East has strong growth fundamentals: a young, fast-growing population, strong infrastructure and a location linking one of the world's major developed markets – Europe – with two of its most exciting growth markets – Africa and Asia. In the centre of this global crossroad, we have a fascinating and diverse region that attracts investment, business and visitors. The GCC economy is worth around $1.5 trillion – a figure forecast to reach more than $2 trillion by 2020 – and presents significant opportunities for businesses looking to expand.

Bahrain's authentic, open culture, warm climate, beautiful natural islands and historical monuments, including two UNSECO World Heritage sites, puts it in a unique position to benefit from both intra-regional tourism and international visitors to the Gulf. We are working closely with Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority's (BTEA) and investors to inspire even more visitors to discover Bahrain. Building on the successes of 2017, where we saw the launch of new international tour operators, as well as a new tourism brand and slogan 'Ours. Yours. Bahrain'.

We know that second-time visitors to Bahrain often stay longer and spend more, and Bahrain is adding even greater breath to its leisure offering to drive further growth across visitor numbers, length of stay, and spend. This includes the re-development of Manama Traditional Souk as well as new beach and island development projects at Qalali Beach, Al Qous Corniche, and Al Moatredh Island.

With a population of just 1.5 million, Bahrain already has one of the highest visitor-per-capita ratios in the world. The first 11 months of 2017 saw 10.4 million tourism visitors attracted to the Kingdom, and by 2020 annual visitor numbers are expected to reach 15 million. This means there has to be a core focus on delivering the right strategic investments in infrastructure to support the accelerating growth in visitor numbers.

At the beginning of 2018, we have a strong investment pipeline in place, worth $13 billion across 14 tourism related projects. This forms part of the Kingdom's wider, large-scale public and private infrastructure development valued at over $32 billion, with key investments including the $1.1 billion Airport modernisation and expansion project, which will increase capacity by 65% to 14 million passengers a year by 2020.

These infrastructure investments will naturally stimulate growth across sectors including manufacturing, logistics, trade, real estate, transportation, and financial services – creating new jobs in the Kingdom which in turn will fuel further opportunities for hotels, restaurants and leisure providers.

The Kingdom's hotel and restaurant sector was already the strongest growing sector in the first half of 2017, experiencing 12.9% year-on-year growth. We will continue to build on this huge potential by attracting new international franchises as well as supporting home-grown businesses. Currently, there are 15 new five and four-star hotels and resorts in the pipeline as well as a number of shopping malls including Dilmunia Mall and Marassi Galleria, which will join the recently opened $159 million Avenues Mall at Bahrain Bay - a buzzing and popular edition to Manama's dynamic leisure scene.

Bahrain has the optimum conditions for investment, with particular advantages for tourism-based enterprises, through 100% foreign ownership in most business activites, ease of setting up business, a low tax environment and highly skilled local talent. As we look forward, we believe that Bahrain's technology infrastructure and capability, including powerful assets like Amazon Web Services (AWS) first regional base, paired with its growing culture of entrepreneurism, will create a testbed environment for innovative new technologies in the tourism sector to develop and then scale regionally and globally.

Our vision is an increasingly productive economy, where growth is driven by our unique fundamentals and supported by a forward thinking government that is committed to putting the private sector at the forefront of development.

Jerad Bachar

Jerad has over 12 years of destination marketing experience and 13 years of hotel and convention centre experience, and has worked in an array of countries and business environments. He has worked in both developed and emerging markets to enhance the areas of tourism including marketing, sales, legislation and governance, stakeholder relations, and international networks.

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