News Column

New committee to promote tourism

August 2, 2014

RAJI UNNIKRISHNAN



A NEW Supreme Committee for Tourism is set to be formed in Bahrain, under the direction of His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister.

The ministerial committee, which was first proposed following a meeting between the Crown Prince and the Culture Ministry last December, is part of a new tourism strategy designed to boost visitor numbers over the next four years.

It will work to strengthen the country's institutional and legislative framework in support of the tourism industry, Culture Ministry tourism affairs adviser Dr Heba Abdulaziz told the GDN.

"The move involves establishing a tourism development fund for Bahrain," said Dr Abdulaziz.

"This will be a dedicated fund for product development, marketing and capacity building - primarily funded by the five per cent tourism tax."

The Bahrain Tourism Strategy 2015-2018 was unveiled last week by Culture Minister Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa.

It aims to increase tourism's contribution to the economy through a variety of methods - such as developing unique products and experiences that make Bahrain's offering to tourists more attractive, and rebranding the country as a "boutique destination" replete with cultural heritage.

Partnerships

Public-private partnerships are also key to the proposals, Dr Abdulaziz said, adding that a task force would be set up to follow through on the strategy's recommendations - alongside training sessions for tourism sector staff, starting in October.

"We need to create and promote a tourism-friendly milieu based on sound environmental, social and cultural practices," said Dr Abdulaziz.

"We hope to develop a range of bankable projects in collaboration with the Economic Development Board - and we have to encourage and facilitate government, private and foreign direct investment by identifying and communicating a competitive bundle of investment incentives."

Despite tourism's relatively low contribution to Bahrain's gross domestic product - estimated at around 2pc of the total in recent years - the sector has been identified as a "major non-oil economic growth driver", according to Dr Abdulaziz.

"The sector experienced a decline of 17pc in 2011 due to the political instability but started its rebound in 2012, demonstrating resilience," she said, adding that capital investment in tourism in Bahrain reached $556 million (BD210m) last year.

Challenges faced by the industry, as identified by hoteliers and tour operators, include an insufficient provision of tour opportunities for visitors and a lack of differentiation between Bahrain's tourism offering and that of other countries in the GCC.

These problems - coupled with an "outdated tourism law" and low customer service standards outside of hotels - are hampering Bahrain's capacity to develop its tourism industry, said Dr Abdulaziz.

Limited international airport capacity with a lack of direct services to long-haul markets is also an issue.

"These lead us to depend on other GCC hubs for long-haul markets," she said.

"There is a high dependency on one market segment in particular - bachelors from Saudi - and a lack of training opportunities for public officials involved in managing the tourism sector and limited public-private sector co-ordination and co-operation only add to the challenges."

The GDN reported last Sunday on Bahrain's heavy reliance on Saudi tourism with four out of every five visitors arriving in the country via the King Fahad Causeway - nearly 90pc of them Saudi nationals.

raji@gdn.com.bh


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Source: Gulf Daily News (Bahrain)


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