Yousef Alkhan Yousef Alkhan

Q & A with Yousef Alkhan, Director Marketing and Tourism Promotion, Bahrain Tourism Exhibitions Authority

BY 2018, SOME 15.2 MILLION TRAVELLERS PER ANNUM ARE EXPECTED TO HEAD TO BAHRAIN AND AS YOUSEF ALKHAN, DIRECTOR, MARKETING AND TOURISM PROMOTION,

BAHRAIN TOURISM & EXHIBITIONS AUTHORITY (BTEA), REVEALS, THE KINGDOM LEAVES NO STONES UNTURNED TO IMPRESS THESE VISITORS.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: How important is tourism to Bahrain’s overall development strategy?

YOUSEF ALKHAN: The total contribution of tourism to the GDP of Bahrain in 2015 was 3.6 percent which is around BHD9.315 million (USD24.7 million), [so] we have enough reasons to be optimistic when we are talking about tourism in Bahrain.

The objective of BTEA is to reach 6.6 percent by 2018.

To achieve this result, we have a clear strategy consisting of increasing the number of visitors to Bahrain, and converting visitors into tourists.

In addition, BTEA is looking at the tourist’s average length of stay to extend the nights spent in hotels. To achieve this, we work on offering to our tourists more attractions and more attractive packages.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: According to Bahrain Economic Development Board, over the past 15 years, arrivals to Bahrain have grown from just four million in 2000 to 11.6 million in 2015. What are the main reasons behind this astonishing development?

YOUSEF ALKHAN: Bahrain attracted 11,623,579 visitors in 2015, [to] a country with a population of just over one million people.

Most of these visitors come through the [King Fahd] Causeway, specifically 6,606,392 visitors.

At the same time, we have also increased the number of visitors through our airport […] and our port.

One of our objectives is the revamp of the port facilities at the Khalifa Bin Salman Port to provide better infrastructure for yachts and cruise ships that bring in tourists.

There are different reasons why Bahrain has increased the number of visitors.

The main factor is the location of the island as the hub of GCC countries, [and other reasons include] having a cosmopolitan capital city like Manama, an attractive lifestyle and a rich history and culture, among others. Another important factor is the morphology of the country as it is the only island country in the Gulf.

Bahrain is situated on the ancient Maritime Silk Road, which has been trading with the world for thousands of years.

Those who have visited and inhabited Bahrain throughout the ages have left their mark on the Kingdom’s culture and values, and contributed to building a society that is open, warm and very welcoming to foreign visitors.

So, we can say that we have enough components to explain the growth in arrivals to the country […].

In terms of inherent factors, aside from our rich culture, history and heritage, we can stress the geographical location of the country, [being] connected with Saudi Arabia by King Fahd Causeway.

In 2015, we received 6,901,973 Saudi visitors from our neighbouring country.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: The annual Formula 1 race has long been a firm fixture in Bahrain’s event calendar. Please give us an idea about sports tourism’ impact.

YOUSEF ALKHAN: Sport is taking a more important role in Bahrain.

The number of sports events has [recently] increased dramatically. With more regional and international events related to sport, Bahrain is becoming step by step an important regional hub for sporting events, particularly for motor sports.

The largest and most popular event since 2004 has been the Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit, which attracted more than 60,000 visitors this year.

However, we can observe how other modalities of motor sport have grown in Bahrain, including the 6 Hours of Bahrain endurance championship or the Bahrain Drag racing championship.

But Bahrain is not only [about] motor sports. In 2015, Bahrain hosted the first edition of Iron-Man, one of the most important global triathlon events in this modality.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: What other action plans do you have in place in order to further increase Bahrain’s competitiveness on the global tourism map?

YOUSEF ALKHAN: We have formulated a strategy which we call the Four As, [meaning] accessibility, attractions, accommodation and awareness.

Our first step is to increase accessibility. As I mentioned before, our biggest target market is Saudi Arabia with 20 million travellers per year.

Our goal is to increase the number of total visitors from 11.6 million to 15.2 million by 2018. To achieve this objective, the Ministry of Interior has slashed the visa fees […].

It is now lower than any of our Gulf neighbours, making Bahrain a competitive destination.

The second point is attractions. As I mentioned, we have inherent factors […].

As an archipelago, we plan the development of eight beaches and islands by 2018 to attract visitors all through the week and not just during weekends.

We are increasing dramatically the number of events, working in partnership with companies like Sony Middle East or Disney, organising events and having positive results.

In terms of accommodation, we currently have 17,000 rooms, as of 2015, but we are going to enhance that to 18,700, and by 2018, we should have 20,000 [units]. […]

Last but not least, awareness. Awareness and marketing are crucial to a successful tourism strategy. Our [upcoming] representative offices will assist us in this important task.