Interview: Fatima Jaafar Al Sairafi

Where do you identify the main priorities of the 2022-26 tourism strategy?

FATIMA JAAFAR AL SAIRAFI: The new tourism strategy forms part of the national Economic Recovery Plan following the Covid-19 pandemic. The strategy was developed by the government as a roadmap to enhance a sector that has significant potential to diversify revenue streams and contribute to the national economy.

The latest tourism strategy is an expansion of the 2016-19 strategy, which helped to increase the sector’s contribution to GDP from 4.6% to more than 6%. The strategy focuses on aesthetic improvement while also targeting the strategic segments of business, sport, leisure, medical and cultural tourism. Its main objectives are to increase the number of tourists visiting the kingdom to 14.1m by 2026; boost the average daily spending by visitors to BD74.80 ($198); raise the average amount of time spent in the country to 3.5 days; and grow the sector’s contribution to GDP to 11.4% by 2026.

To achieve these goals, the ministry is engaged in efforts to facilitate entry, diversify and develop attractions, enhance accommodations, and improve marketing and promotion. This final element will be achieved in partnership with private sector partners and the national carrier, Gulf Air.

What steps can be taken to ensure small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) benefit from international events in Bahrain?

AL SAIRAFI: Local SMEs can benefit significantly from international events held in the country. For example, destination management companies cater to the thousands of tourists that come to Bahrain for events by creating excursions and itineraries, while other companies provide transport and tour services. The national tourism strategy can only be successful if the ministry and the private sector collaborate on its implementation. To illustrate this point, plans developed in partnership with the private sector have fuelled the 30% recovery achieved by the hospitality industry in 2022.

To what extent will greater collaboration among tourism stakeholders enhance Bahrain’s attractiveness as a tourist destination?

AL SAIRAFI: Companies need to be empowered and supported in order to succeed and contribute to the sector’s growth. The Ministry of Tourism is working hand in hand with stakeholders across all projects, whether collaborating with government stakeholders to build key infrastructure projects – as was the case for the newly launched Exhibition World Bahrain – or tapping into new markets by working with the national carrier and tour operators.

Collaboration with other countries in the region is also important. As such, we are holding meetings, signing memoranda of understanding, exchanging ideas and drawing up joint tourism programmes with our neighbours. The November 2022 meeting between the GCC ministers of tourism saw discussions about the Gulf Tourism Strategy, the Capital of Gulf Tourism, the GCC tourism guide and the GCC tourism platform, as well as an array of other topics.

How do you view the role of tourism in generating new investment opportunities?

AL SAIRAFI: The growth of tourism also means growth in spending and investment capacity in the market. This is directly linked to Bahrain’s business-friendly status. Our objective to increase tourism’s contribution to GDP underscores the significant investment opportunities in the sector.

The ministry’s ongoing efforts to position Bahrain as a global tourism destination has also piqued the interest of investors. Thanks to these developments, investors from the Middle East and East Asia are expected to enter the market in the coming years.