Interview: Zayed R Al Zayani
How has the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism made Bahrain a more attractive destination for foreign investors?
ZAYED R AL ZAYANI: The regulatory changes focus on improving the ease of doing business: an area where obstacles were identified and remedial actions were promptly initiated, laws updated and operating processes re-engineered. Industrial Areas Affairs went through a restructuring process that resulted in two directorates: the Industrial Areas Operations Directorate and the Industrial Areas Development Directorate. The foremost change relating to industrial lands in 2016 was to review each step in the allocation process, and the total cycle of activities within the ministry, from the submission of applications to the signing of lease agreements, was reduced to 18 working days. Leases in industrial areas have been reviewed and rationalised, with ancillary activities like logistics and accompanying commercial services permitted to a given extent with clear guidelines. Another major improvement was reducing industrial land violations from 28% to 8.5% in the last 18 months, which was achieved by enhancing regulatory powers and improving supervision. Moving forward, we plan to ensure cleaned-up industrial areas in anticipation of the launch of several new industrial parks in the near future.
The gamut of industrial licensing and registration processes have also been revamped through the digitisation of all existing documents. The Industrial Licence and Registration Management System will greatly enhance the efficiency and consistency of the licensing and registration process. Licensing applications are already being received and processed through our newly launched company registration portal Sijilat, where no manual submission of applications for preliminary or final licences is required. The next step is integrating the licensing and registration system with Customs Affairs to facilitate processing of Customs duty exemptions. We removed old requirements including minimum capital requirements, minimum qualifications, bank statements, partner’s approval of competition, solvency letters and residency requirements.
What targets are being set, and what policies have been implemented to help grow the tourism industry and its contribution to GDP?
AL ZAYANI: The total contribution of tourism to the GDP of Bahrain in 2015 was 3.6%, which is around BD9.32m ($24.7m), so we have reason to be optimistic when talking about tourism in Bahrain and are ambitious about increasing tourism’s contribution to GDP in future years. The target set by the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority (BTEA) is to reach 6.6% of GDP by 2018. This will be achieved by following a clear strategy intended to increase the number of visitors to Bahrain, convert visitors into tourists and extend the average tourist’s length of stay. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, we are offering more attractions and more attractive packages. To supplement our current tourist attraction strategy, as well as to further diversify from the existing GCC market, we have established representative offices in France, the UK, Germany, China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The kingdom of Bahrain was selected in 2016 as the “GCC Capital of Tourism”, and to celebrate that position we have embarked on a full calendar year of events such as a well-known yearly event, the GCC Food and Travel Awards.
BTEA launched a new tourism identity, “Ours. Yours. Bahrain”, with the aim of promoting Bahrain both regionally and internationally. An extensive marketing campaign is beginning to promote Bahrain as a family destination. In an attempt to be more attractive to families and visitors alike, we have decreased visa fees from BD25 ($66.31) to BD5 ($13.26) in order to be more competitive in the region. Furthermore, we are facilitating entrance to our target markets, such as China, because we are one of the few countries in the region providing visas on arrival to Chinese citizens.
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