Jerad Bachar, executive director – tourism and leisure, Bahrain Economic Development Board (EBD), in conversation with Reema Lokesh, speaks about Bahrain's tourism potential and the importance of the Indian market for the region
Jerad Bachar, executive director – tourism and leisure, Bahrain Economic Development Board (EBD), in conversation with Reema Lokesh, speaks about Bahrain’s tourism potential and the importance of the Indian market for the region
What will be the strategy to tap the India market for inbound tourism into Bahrain?
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Bahrain has long been known for its open and authentic culture and this has been an important factor in making Bahrain a welcoming home to more than 350,000 Indians. Bahrain also has an authenticity and historical depth of culture stretching back 5,000 years. Bahrain and India have a long history in trade and for this reason the Bahraini culture has adopted some elements of the Indian culture.
An example of a similarity is the social concept of joint family house and some food and sweet dishes. These simple yet historical factors make Bahrain appealing to the Indian clientele – and with the excellent connectivity that provides direct links from Bahrain to a number of cities in India, they will find it a convenient prospect as well. In order to encourage Indian visitors and to assist them with planning their trip, the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority intends to open an office in India where further information on travel and accommodation, as well as cultural and leisure
experiences will be available.
What is the role of EDB, vis-a-vis the tourism board?
The Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority was launched to grow the number of inbound tourists by continuing to upgrade projects and maintain the facilities, coastal areas, and islands as well as engage with other cultures around the world by hosting cultural events. The focus of the EDB is to encourage international companies in the tourism sector to invest in Bahrain. Of course, those aims are complementary and will depend on each other for their success. As the number of visitors to Bahrain grows, it becomes an increasingly attractive market for companies in the sector and as we continue to invest in our tourism infrastructure, Bahrain will be more appealing for potential visitors.
What would be your B2B and B2C strategy for India?
On the B2B side, the Bahrain tourism community will continue to conduct regular visits to India and engage with businesses in the sector, including travel agencies, tour operators and destination management companies. We realise the value of engaging with outbound agencies in the market, including both traditional and online agencies. As mentioned, the Bahrain Tourism Authority is working to appoint representation in India. This agency will be responsible for creating and implementing dynamic campaigns that target the outbound Indian tourism sector. We will continue to work to build an understanding of how unique Bahrain is and what we can offer the Indian traveller.
In terms of numbers, what is tourism’s contribution to the economy and how much will you be investing in the sector?
At the EDB, we estimate that the direct contribution of tourism to the Bahraini economy was some five per cent of GDP in 2015. The indirect impact of the sector is far greater – approximately 12 per cent of GDP. We also estimate that the sector supports around 40,000 jobs in Bahrain, with a significant indirect impact of several sectors of the economy.
Hotels and restaurants was the fastest growing sector in the kingdom over the past two years, expanding by 4.4 per cent in 2014 and by 7.3 per cent in 2015. In the near future, the kingdom’s broader tourism market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.8 per cent, reaching US$ 1 billion by 2020. The Kingdom of Bahrain is set to dedicate over US$ 32 billion to developing infrastructure across the country over the next few years. The tourism sector will benefit greatly from this investment.
In the Asia Pacific region, where do you see India as a tourism business partner?
We see India as one of our key partners in the region because of a range of factors – including cultural and logistical connectivity, the size of the market and high level of existing Indian residents. We think that the potential is arguably greater there than anywhere else, so we would also expect Indian tourism businesses to play an important role. We also know from first-hand experience, the value that Indian businesses can bring to the Bahraini economy. Bahrain is home to a large number of Indian companies, including Electrosteel, Chemco, Canara Bank, Tech Mahindra, HDFC Bank, Bank of Baroda, Tata Consultancy Services, ICICI Bank and State Bank of India.
What is a general target audience that you expect into Bahrain from India?
We believe that Bahrain can appeal to a wide range of audiences. Our culture is very family-friendly, the travel time from India is relatively short and the investments being made in new high quality hotels and resorts mean that we think Bahrain can be a particularly attractive option for family holidays.
Bahrain also has a unique history that sets it apart – much of which can be seen today in our museums and archaeological sites, encompassing some of the region’s earliest civilisations and the world’s first great work of literature, Gilgamesh. This makes the kingdom a very special destination for anyone with an interest in culture and history.
To add to the experience of visiting Bahrain, there are a great variety of restaurants that serve authentic Middle Eastern cuisine as well as Far Eastern, Chinese, Indian, and European food. In addition, Bahrain’s liberal lifestyle means that the island has developed a vibrant night life that caters to locals and visitors alike.