Part of Bahrain’s tourism strategy is to market experiences as well as the destination, and the country’s leaders have recognised that a full calendar of regular events helps to attract new visitors each year, but also drums up repeat business. At the outset of the 21st century the country invested $150m in building the Middle East’s first Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit. “Tourism infrastructure, and investment in creating destinations, are important parts of extending visitors length of stay in Bahrain beyond a one or two day trip, which is a key part of the kingdom’s tourism development strategy,” Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, chief executive of Bahrain International Circuit, told OBG.
The first Bahrain Grand Prix took place in 2004, and according to a fact sheet on the 2017 event in local media, the Formula 1 race directly and indirectly brings in around $500m in revenue each year. In 2017 the event attracted 33,000 visitors on race day and 93,000 over the weekend, according to Bahrain International Circuit, which reported the Paddock Club and corporate boxes were sold out for the first time.
SHOPPING: Although 2018 will see the introduction of value-added tax across the GCC, Bahrain will be hoping the new tax does not dampen shoppers’ appetites. In 2017 the 30-day Shop Bahrain festival, which ran from January 19 to February 18, attracted 20,000 visitors in its first week, an increase of 7% on the previous year, with 80% of tourists coming from Saudi Arabia followed by Kuwait and the UAE. The Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), which organised the event along with the government agency Tamkeen, announced a 73% occupancy rate of serviced apartments in Bahrain during the 2017 festival, reflecting the number of families attending the event, with hotels as a whole generating BD9m ($23.9m) in revenues over the course of the festival’s duration.
Shop transactions amounted to BD8m ($21.2m), with the total number of transactions surging from 60,000 in 2016 to 130,000 in 2017. In 2016 shops in 20 malls sold BD11m ($29.2m) worth of goods during the course of the festival.
EXHIBITION CENTRE: The Bahrain International Exhibition and Conference Centre (BIECC) has been hosting meetings and events since 1991, serving as a draw for the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions segment of tourism. It was launched as an 8000-sq-metre venue, with a second 6000-sq-metre hall added in 1999, followed by a 14000-sq-metre convention centre in 2003. Exhibitors are able to show their wares in almost 16,000-sq-metre of column-free space. In January 2018 the first Bahrain Auto Show was held at the BIECC. The event’s aim was to be the most influential automotive show in the region and a showcase for the latest designs in buses, vans and cars from around the world. It is estimated that some 10,000 people attended as well as 150 exhibitors.
GRAND PRIX: An ancient Chinese festival created some confusion around the timing of Bahrain’s 2018 Grand Prix, with organisers deciding to switch dates to accommodate Chinese requests. The Chinese venue was originally scheduled to host the second race of the 21-fixture season on April 8, with the Bahrain Grand Prix following the next weekend. However, the Shanghai dates clashed with the three-day national holiday, known as Qingming, and Formula 1’s owners Liberty Media were concerned the clash could result in low attendance figures for the race.
Therefore, a decision was made to swap dates in September 2017, giving hoteliers, the venue and also Bahrain International Airport time to make detailed preparations for the smooth transit of the teams, vehicles, international media and spectators that follows the event around the world. In April 2017 BTEA reported 12,000 rooms had been booked during the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, with five-star hotels reaching up to 89% occupancy. During the Formula 1 motor racing event, hotels generated revenues of BD3.7m ($9.8m), according to BTEA reports.
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