By Courtney Trenwith
Island kingdom launches new 'experience-led' tourism strategy, 3 years after violent protests shook the industry
Bahrain has launched a new tourism strategy, rebranding the country as a "boutique destination".
The Bahrain Tourism Strategy 2015-2018 will focus on promoting the country’s “experiences”, including pearling, exploring the Arabian nature, culture trails, visiting the Formula One and a variety of festivals, Gulf Daily News reported.
The kingdom announced in March that it would create one of the world's largest offshore preservation sites, which it claimed would enable it to compete against the Maldives for tourists.
The Northern Heyrat Preserve would include four natural pearling sites off the north coast of the country, covering 1350 square kilometres of sea, including the 2-kilometre Pearl Route, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tourism presently represents about only 2 percent of Bahrain’s gross domestic product.
The sector declined about 17 percent in 2011 due to violent political instability, according to tourism affairs adviser and strategy project head Dr Heba Abdulaziz, who also said $556 million had been invested in the industry in recent years.
Bahraini tourism relies on Saudi bachelors who travel from the conservative kingdom.
Four out of five visitors to Bahrain arrive from Saudi Arabia via the King Fahad Causeway, with nearly 90 percent of them Saudi nationals, Gulf Daily News reported.
The country presently lacks attractions and has little to compete against neighbouring Gulf states, particularly the UAE and Qatar, which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars boosting their sectors.
Abdulaziz said low service standards and an outdated tourism law – including stringent visa requirements – and limited international airport capacity were restricting the tourism industry.
"There is a high dependency on one market segment in particular - bachelors from Saudi - and a lack of training opportunities for public officials involved in managing the tourism sector and limited public-private sector co-ordination and co-operation only add to the challenges."
The strategy also plans to encourage more young Bahrainis into the sector.