Investment into tourism has given Bahrain a distinct identity in the Gulf region: Sunil Mathapati

One of the few countries in the gulf region that is bereft of oil, Bahrain has commendably trained its energies in augmenting its tourism and related infrastructure, and has emerged as a financial and tourism hub in the region. We take stock of how tourism is unfolding in Bahrain, beside understanding how the nation is boosting its presence in the Indian market – which is already its second largest source of footfalls after the neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Excerpts of the interview with Sunil Mathapati, India representative, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) 

Sunil MathapatBahrain is an ancient civilization with a rich heritage of over 5000 years, and once a centre of the pearl trade. How big is the history and culture quotient in attracting tourism and footfalls in to the country? Is this segment part of your outreach in India?

Bahrain is very rich in culture, heritage and spirit, providing tourists with several options to experience. Examples of this are the two UNESCO World Heritage sites, Bahrain Fort and the Path of Pearls. The Bahrain Fort is an ancient harbour and the site of the Dilmun capital. The Path of Pearls is the most important and most complete remaining example of the pearling cultural traditions that shaped the economies and identities of the Gulf countries. The Bahrain National Museum allows visitors to discover over 6,000 years of history. We are also home to three forts built over several periods of Bahrain’s history.

Bahrain enjoys a long and diversified historical and cultural legacy. Manama was nominated as Capital of Arab Culture in 2012. Capital of Arab Tourism in 2013. Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage under the auspices of UNESCO was founded in Bahrain. According to The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 of the World Economic Forum Bahrain is ranked 3rd among the Arab States and 55th globally.

Yes, India occupies a significant position in attracting travellers to explore its rich history. With a lot of traveller wanting to explore newer destination, Bahrain history would be unique in terms of explaining how Pearl exploration was done. The Bahrain International Circuit, Shopping experience would give a glimpse of the Modern World of Bahrain which will be a segment to attract visitors.

Contrary to its neighbours, Bahrain is bereft of oil, and created wealth through continuous investments in two segments: finance and tourism. A regional financial centre and a tourism hub in equal measure. It is a plank that could work very well in India, especially in the incentives segment. Your thoughts.

Bahrain’s economy is very diverse and exceptional in the GCC. The Growing Beyond Oil report mentions how Bahrain’s economy has demonstrated that a Kingdom has avoided the Gulf general economic pitfalls and positioned itself as a vanguard of economic process. It was the fastest growing Financial Centre in the world as per Global Financial Centre Index. Bahrain is the 10th freest economy in the world.  Since the 20th Century Bahrain invested in Financial and Tourism Sectors. It has got a good mix of work culture and party atmosphere – which is very much evident when you visit Bahrain. 

With Bahrain 2017 & 2018 strategy is to tap the MICE Segment as a major source market, it has got all the deliverables which MICE incentive are looking for. Its rich history, range of hotels, various options for banquets and good local and international cuisine with various shopping options makes it a good incentive destination. Our Campaign” Ours Yours” clearly reflects what Bahrain has to got is yours to enjoy it.

What are some USPs of Bahrain as a destination? What are some of its key pull factors? We understand that retail shopping is big.

The foremost USP of Bahrain is its people. A liberal country in the GCC, it invites people with a simile right from the immigration. Its hospitality is well known in the GCC. Where ever you go from sightseeing to restaurants to shopping you are welcomed everywhere.

The pulling factor is its rich culture and heritage. The museums tell a lot of stories of the land and its development. Bahrain International Circuit is a place worth visiting; be it individual or family there is activity for everyone to enjoy. Shopping is an experience in Bahrain.

There are about 4 major malls having all major brands to choose from. Discounts are noticed everywhere. You are sure to get a good deal for your lovable brand in Bahrain. Avenues are the biggest Mall which will open in the near future and house brands from around the world. The Bahrain Shopping festival is the right time to come.

How critical is tourism to the economy of Bahrain? How have investments on the infra front, in the tourism sector, especially, panned out for the country?

Given its legacy of openness, tourism constitutes an important part of the economy. The government has taken various steps in bringing different individuals, activities with product and services which can cater to tourism demand as a whole. The government has seen the potential of tourism and with the need of the hour allowed meaningful investment in restoring cultural history and tradition. It has made connectivity easy for tourist to reach places of sightseeing. Hotels and entertainment which is also important have been given due diligence and ensured that they live up to the standards for make a tourist comfortable.  

We believe that Saudi Arabia, courtesy being a neighbouring country, contributes the most in terms of international footfalls. What are some of your key source countries, globally, and where does India stand in that pecking order?

Saudi Arabia for long has been the biggest contributor to the footfall. 60% people coming from the Causeway into Bahrain for a good weekend. Nevertheless, people from other countries are also visiting Bahrain. The Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority has opened representation office United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Saudi Arabia, and India.

India stands 2nd in the order after Saudi Arabia. With the UNWTO predicating as sizable outbound numbers from India, Bahrain would like to get a small percentage of this number. The focus currently would be to target the MICE, stopover and wedding segments. With a sizeable Indian community and various options of hotels and activities, Bahrain can cater to all these segments.

The flight connectivity between the two nations is considerable. There are numerous flights from Delhi and Mumbai. However, despite the ease of connectivity and short flying time, Indian footfalls, to our understanding, have not been commensurate to either Bahrain’s tourism potential, or compared to the number of Indian outbound coming to some of the neighbouring Gulf counties? What is the bottleneck here and how do reckon it can be ironed out? Is it because of insufficient outreach and visibility?

Frankly, Bahrain was never considered by the Indian traveller as a tourist destination. Travellers to Europe would take Gulf Air where Bahrain was a hub, but as there was no awareness with the travel agents or the travellers, Bahrain was never really suggested to be explored. A lot of work needs to be done in projecting Bahrain to the travellers. A systematic approach has been initiated with a strategy been laid down to pave way for us to reach out to our target segments and have Bahrain as next destination to be their bucket list.

Yes, the big boys of the GCC have done very well to promote themselves but Bahrain will not be very much behind. I am sure with our defined approach and visibility campaigns, awareness would be done to ensure Bahrain is noticed.  

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