Interview: Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa

What economic opportunities will the designation of Manama as the Capital of Arab Culture for 2012 create for the tourism industry?

SHEIKHA MAI BINT MOHAMMED AL KHALIFA: Manama won this nomination at a meeting of Arab ministers of culture in 2004. The Bahraini Ministry of Culture has had time to develop an innovative agenda for the year, which seeks to invite Arabs to discover the cultures, heritages and identities of different parts of the Arab world. The year-long programme for Manama, the Capital of Arab Culture 2012, is broken up into 12 different cultural themes according to the months of the year, and is designed to foster an environment of multi-disciplinary learning which will appeal to all sectors of society.

Likewise, the Ministry of Culture plans to promote Bahrain as a leading tourism destination, seeking to develop tourism as a sustainable sector and major contributor to the local economy in line with Bahrain Vision 2030. As such, in promoting the country’s tourist credentials, we are actively participating in internationally renowned events, both inside and outside Bahrain, and raising awareness of the Kingdom’s potential.

In addition, we are working closely with both the public and private sectors to attract investment opportunities that will stimulate growth in the tourism industry. In line with this emphasis, we have been producing a range of attractive and multilingual promotional materials to support the private sector and highlight the cultural, historical and modern landmarks of the country. Furthermore, we recently launched a dedicated phone line, which gives the public access to a wide range of information, including hotel and restaurant contacts, tour operators, airlines, cultural and touristic events, and ways to invest in the tourism sector.

Are there any new tourist attractions being developed for 2012 given that Manama has been designated the Capital of Arab Tourism in 2013?

SHEIKHA MAI: A number of new investments in the hotel sector are under way to cope with the rising demand. These comprise three five-star hotels, eight four-star hotels and six serviced apartment buildings, offering top-quality facilities for visitors and Bahraini residents alike. The Concept M and Amwaj Millennium Hotels on Amwaj Islands, and a new five-star hotel at the Bahrain Bay development along the northern shore of Manama are examples of these new facilities. Other investments include developments in the Seef Area, Juffair and Um Al Hassam, which have been given initial approvals to start development work.

In addition, the National Theatre is scheduled to open in November 2012. Bab Al Bahrain, the old gateway to Manama, will also be redeveloped, a Tree of Life Visitor’s Centre will be opened and the Qaisariya Souq has been undergoing extensive restoration work.

How has the ministry counteracted any ill effects from the political unrest in 2011?

SHEIKHA MAI: The tourism sector has been growing steadily over the past five years. The slowdown in early 2011 due to the recent unrest was much briefer than we originally anticipated. We believe we will see steady growth in the number of GCC and regional visitors, especially due to the wide range of activities taking place this year and next. Visitors from further afield will be attracted by our unique blend of tradition and modernity, which earns us a niche position in the region.

Moreover, the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) sector remains very healthy and our facilities have won international awards. We are actively developing this sector to position Bahrain as the most attractive destination for MICE, not only for visitors from Europe, but from even further afield.

Other events that have taken place in the Kingdom include the Bahrain International Airshow, the Bahrain International Boat Show, the Spring of Culture and the Formula 1 race, which took place in April 2012. The Tourism Directorate has included other initiatives in our strategy for the future. These varied international events show the world that Bahrain is back on track.