Bahrain's rides the fast-track well with the F1.
Summary: The annual event continues to cast a spotlight on Gulf state's diversification prospects
Jasim Ali, Special to Gulf News
The Gulf forms an integral part of the Formula One calendar, with Bahrain and the UAE hosting two of the races. Only 20 cities around the host F-1 race in 2017, two of which occur in the GCC. Bahrain hosts the third round this week after Australia and China. The UAE is to do so with the final round in late November, with the champion crowned at the Yas Marina Circuit. Bahrain started hosting the F-1 in 2004 and became the first in the Middle East and North Africa region. However, the body governing F-1 cancelled Bahrain's Grand Prix in 2011 following the political developments in February of that year. The race grants Bahrain - the smallest country in the GCC in terms of population, size and economy - an exceptional global outreach and exposure. The country gets the attention of millions of fans for three consecutive days.
F-1 provides a classic example of the notion of positive spillover effects for the economy, as spent money during the event circulates throughout, with benefits not confined to companies in and around Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) in Sahkir. The circuit has a capacity of 70,000 spectators, considerably higher than other sporting arenas in the kingdom.
The circuit is located to the south of Manama. The authorities invested a lot developing road networks leading into BIC. The infrastructure serves motorists throughout the year while commuting to and from their workplaces.
Not surprisingly, the area surrounding the circuit continues to grow, with hotels, businesses and residential schemes. Several commercial areas and residential complexes have since been built within BIC's vicinity. Besides hosting the Grand Prix, the BIC serves as a multi-purpose venue throughout the year. These entail the staging of conferences and events and launching of new products and, of course, racing activities other than F-1. Gulf Air, fully-owned by the government of Bahrain, makes year-round advertisement of the championship by virtue of being the main sponsor of the race. The airline gets sizeable business from F-1 fans, flying them from its network in Asia, Africa and Europe. Understandably, other regional airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad benefit from the race thanks to their expanding networks.
Telecom firms are the other primary sponsors of the Grand Prix. The event provides a golden opportunity to market their latest products.
Bahrain-based financial institutions buy primary spots for their most valued clients. Some companies operating in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia offer clients the opportunity to gain the F-1 experience in Bahrain. Spectators from al over the world travel to Bahrain to attend the race, taking advantage of relaxed visa measures in the build up to the event. Bahrain has a liberal environment, ensuring a competitive advantage.
Undoubtedly, the low-oil price environment since mid-2014 has added value to events like F-1 for helping with diversification from the petroleum sector. It provides a golden chance for Bahrain.
The writer is a Member of Parliament in Bahrain.
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