Interview: Nasser Ali Qaedi

Where do you identify the main challenges and opportunities in Bahrain’s tourism sector in the post-pandemic recovery?

NASEER ALI QAEDI: Bahrain is an established destination for regional and international tourism, with a rich culture and history at the crossroads of civilisations that has spanned thousands of years. As such, the Bahraini tradition of welcoming travellers and visitors has helped to fuel a productive tourism industry.

Over the past decade Bahrain has invested in numerous tourism initiatives and infrastructure developments, and refined its approach to promoting the country as a destination. All these things were done with the goal of placing Bahrain at the forefront of the tourism industry, both regionally and globally.

The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has served as a reminder of the value of tourism as a driver of economic growth, and as a sector with a positive multiplier effect on different areas of the economy. Whether we talk about job creation, retail development, business travel services or hospitality, tourism has an integral role to play.

It is against this backdrop that the kingdom is making a concerted drive to maintain its preferred destination status and grow its tourism reputation in new markets. As a Gulf island country to the east of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is well placed for future tourism growth, and we are ensuring that our unique offering is an attractive proposition for visitors to the region.

What is the role of tourism in job creation, and to what extent can the sector increase its contribution to the wider economy?

QAEDI: The tourism sector is a key component of the National Economic Strategy, which was designed to reach the goals of Bahrain Economic Vision 2030, the country’s long-term development framework. In 2019 tourism was responsible for approximately 7% of GDP, and the sector’s ambitious growth strategy incorporates a five-year plan unveiled in November 2021 that aims increase tourism’s contribution to GDP to 11.4% by 2026. Policymakers and stakeholders are confident in the tourism sector’s potential, and it will play an important role in creating new business opportunities. That confidence is well placed, given the range of new projects and initiatives under way.

Tourism is going to be central to creating new business opportunities. In this regard, the amount of traffic that is expected to be generated by the new Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre – which will be the region’s largest exhibition and convention centre on a total site area of 309,000 sq metres – should bolster Bahrain’s position as a leading destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibition tourism events.

Infrastructure and real estate projects – including beach developments, waterfront properties, resorts, recreational areas and shopping centres – will play a large part in stimulating and sustaining business activity, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. Moreover, entrepreneurship is set to increase in the tourism space as we work to encourage creative business activities in the sector.

We expect that many of the new businesses that will emerge in Bahrain in the near future are going to be related to tourism, due in part to the country’s business-friendly environment and the investment made by the government to bolster the sector’s competitiveness on an international scale.

Bahrain has a population of just 1.5m people, but before the pandemic it attracted around 11m visitors each year. This impressive ratio reflects how critical tourism is to the national economy and its role in driving and sustaining activity in other sectors, as well as in stimulating new opportunities for the market. When we promote tourism to Bahrain, we are promoting Bahraini products, services, businesses and, ultimately, we are promoting Bahrain as a brand.