By Shane McGinley
Hotel, tourism deals hinge on Bahrain securing a fresh date in Formula One racing calendar
Bahrain could lose at least $700m in revenues if its
showpiece Formula One race is cancelled indefinitely following civil unrest in
the Gulf kingdom.
The March 13 season opener was cancelled on Monday following
violent clashes that left seven dead and hundreds injured, but may still be staged
later in the racing calendar.
Hotels, travel agents and tourism operators in the kingdom
stand to lose millions if the event does not go ahead, a senior executive at
Kanoo Travel, the Gulf’s largest travel firm, said.
Numbers were already down by 50 percent following widespread
unrest in the Middle East, but a number of clients have retained their bookings
in the hope the race will be rescheduled, said
Sunil De Souza, regional travel manager for the UAE and Oman.
“Most of them we spoke to want to hold onto the booking for
some time until probably a week until things become clearer. We are hoping [the
protests] will subside and the race will continue at a later date and we will
carry [the bookings] forward to a later date,” he added.
Hotels are likely to be worst hit by the cancellation. The
majority boast 100 percent occupancy over a race weekend.
"It has definitely affected everyone,” said Marwan
Haddad, director of sales at Marriott Executive Apartments said.
Jeff Strachan, Marriott International’s vice president of
sales and marketing for MENA, said much hinged on the rescheduling of the
“[We’re awaiting] progress of the discussions between F1 and
Bahrain authorities with regards to the potential rescheduling of the race,” he
said. “We will then address how best to handle the business booked over the F1
The Bahrain Grand Prix generated $600m in revenue in 2008,
according to data from the state-backed Mumtalakat Holding Company. This was a
rise of nearly 10 percent on 2007’s figures, and was likely to have been higher again in 2010.
F1 commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone on Tuesday returned a
multimillion-dollar cheque to Bahrain in a refund of the licence fees the Gulf
state paid to host the event.
The amount, rumoured to be $60m, was returned as an act of
loyalty and good faith, Ecclestone told The Times.
"Nobody gains from this," Ecclestone said. "I
want to be loyal to the King [of Bahrain], because he is doing everything he
can to put things right with his people. He doesn't need people like me
stabbing him in the back.
"Right from the start, we talked about the problems
there, and he was straight with me. I am not there and I do not know properly
what problems they are having. But the King was concerned about Formula One and
our safety, which is why he took the decision to call off the race."