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Growth market for tourism.

BLESSED WITH SOME of the region's best beaches in waters that are warm all-year round and a history going back 5,000 years, it is not surprising that tourism is a major growth industry in Bahrain. The government has responded to the challenge by launching a Five Year Tourism Development Plan (1993-1997) aimed at attracting foreign investment in the sector and making Bahrain the tourism hub of the region.

The country spans 32 islands and has always been popular with Gulf tourists. Real growth came with the opening of the 25km King Fahd Causeway in November 1986 which linked Bahrain with Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province. Today over 2.5m people travel to Bahrain annually.

In 1991, three-quarters of the tourism arrivals in Bahrain were from the other five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman and Qatar. The second largest category were European nationals mainly expatriates, many of whom confirm Bahrain as perhaps the Gulf state with the most relaxed lifestyle and a high standard of living and services.

In terms of tourism infrastructure, Bahrain is well endowed. Currently, says Abdulnabi al Shoala, a board member of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce, there are 37 classified and eight non-classified hotels in the country. Of the classified hotels, six are five-star hotels in addition to the new Meridien Hotel which opened in early 1993. There are also 130 deluxe hotel apartments, giving a total number of about 5,600 rooms.

Bahrain officials point out their country as the geopolitical centre of the region, the aviation hub of the Gulf and the epicentre of a catchment area with perhaps the largest per capita national income in the world, which boasts two-thirds of the world's oil reserves and estimated oil revenues of $80bn this year.

Bahrainis refer to their country as the ancient land of Dilmun, to which reference has been made since 6000 BC during the earliest dawn of city dwelling in Mesopotamia in Ur, Uruk, Babylon and Nineveh. "In legend," explains Al Shoala, "this was the home of mankind, the land of life, or paradise. Blessed by abundant sweet water, it was a popular haven on the trade route between Sumeria and the Indus Valley civilisation." In the 1950s archaeologists indeed uncovered a 5,000-year-old city with a temple, forts, an ancient village and thousands of grave mounds. Only two years ago, another ancient city dating to about 1900 BC was unearthed near Saar.

Bahrain also boasts an Islamic and Arab heritage including the 17th century Al Khamis mosque, the Bahrain, Arad and Riffa forts and the ancient traditional houses in the old quarters of Manama and Muharraq.

As leisure and travel develops, Bahrain is determined not to be left behind. Its water skiing, sailing, diving, snorkelling, power boating and fishing facilities are second to none in the Gulf. It offers a wide selection of entertainment, theatre and nightlife to cater both for Arab and Western tastes.

Bahrain's tourism development strategy is based on the assumption that the number of tourists arriving in the country will grow annually by a conservative 8% and that the tourism structure by nationality will become more diverse to include neighbouring peoples, expatriates from Europe and Asia, and business travellers who bring along their families. The government estimates that by 1996, 8,000 rooms in the classified hotels sector alone will be needed, increasing employment in the tourism sector to about 9,000.

Another component of the strategy is to boost Bahrain as a regional exhibition and conference centre. A major new Bahrain International Exhibition Centre was opened last November and organisers confirm the island-state's infrastructure advantages over its regional rivals in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah and Istanbul.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Report; Bahrain
Author:Parker, Mushtak
Publication:The Middle East
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:May 1, 1993
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