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Tue 17 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

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What's new in Bahrain?

Bahrain is forging ahead with a tourism plan that includes restoring its historical attributes new ones.

Bahrain is forging ahead with a tourism plan that includes restoring its historical attributes while constructing modern developments to attract both business and leisure travellers.

Business-friendly Bahrain' is well-established as a hub for international financial, transportation and manufacturing companies, making it a hive of corporate activity. As a result, the tourism market can be overwhelmingly focused on MICE and business travel.

However, Bahrain has a lot to offer and is increasingly angling toward the leisure market, with new developments and a focus on restoring the rich history of the islands.

One major challenge, according to Banyan Tree Al Areen general manager Sami Ayari, is attracting international guests to Bahrain.

"Travellers outside the GCC won't necessarily look at Bahrain as a destination; it's not a beach destination and it's not a shopping destination," he says.

"The biggest opportunity in Bahrain is to enhance the cultural heritage - it's all there, it just needs to be made more tourist-friendly for travellers from overseas.

Cultural hotspots for tourists include the Bahrain Portuguese Fort, built in 1522, which can be explored with the aid of a professional tour guide or on a self-guided walking tour; the Al Fateh Mosque; and the museum of pearl diving.

The buzzing Adliya district is home to a range of popular and award-winning restaurants and nightspots, making it a worthy alternative to hotel dining.

Bahrain is set to grow considerably over the next few years, with an influx of new hotels; the highly-anticipated Bahrain Bay projects; government initiatives to create beaches; and an ever-expanding range of shopping facilities.

However, this raft of development poses several challenges, according to Al Areen's Ayari. He stresses that growth must be measured in order to maintain the country's unique character.

"Bahrain is a diamond in the rough - my only hope is that it will be now be carefully cut," says Ayari.

BIC

Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) is not only the host of Formula One racing in Bahrain; the venue has transformed itself into the perfect destination for MICE tourism, offering a range of meeting rooms, conference spaces and incentive opportunities.

The Al Sakhir Tower caters to corporate, private, social and cultural events, with each floor of the tower featuring hospitality lounges.

The Oasis Complex is a stand-alone group of 12 hospitality lounges that can be used for meetings, conferences and product launches.

BIC has developed a range of corporate incentive and team-building driving activities, both off-road and on-road, which include go-karts, caterhams, quads and Hummers.

Golf course

Bahrain's former Riffa Golf Club has transformed into an international standard championship course, including the Royal Golf Club at Riffa Views.

Riffa Views Golf Club is a PGA, 18-hole, par-72 course. The new course opened in late 2008.

Restored houses

Sheikha Mai bin Mohammed Al Khalifa is the driving force behind the transformation of one of Bahrain's residential neighbourhoods, with the intention of enhancing the country's bid to become a UNESCO Arab World Culture Capital.

Sheikha Mai holds a Masters degree in political history and is Bahrain's current minister for culture and information.

The buildings selected for the restoration project include: Beit Ebrahim Al Arrayed - the house of the Bahraini poet and intellectual was restored as a cultural centre with exhibition rooms, a library and spaces for lectures and public events; Abdullah Al Zayed Press Heritage House - the former home of Abdulla Al Zayed, who established Bahrain's first magazine in 1934; Beit Al Kurar - a tiny museum conceived in the hope of saving the craft of Kurar's labour-intensive embroidery.

Kurar typically required three women to weave a multitude of threads between their fingers to produce the fringe along traditional thobes; Iqra Children's Library - a bright and modern library for local children, aiming to connect local children to cultural differences; and Bait Mohammed bin Faris (opening soon) where visitors view display cases holding musical instruments, and sheets of music notes.

BahrainBayand Marina West

Bahrain Bay is an upcoming mixed-use development situated near the Bahrain World Trade Centre and diplomatic area. The project will be anchored by a Four Seasons hotel tower offering 220 rooms, scheduled to open its doors in 2010.

In addition, CapitaLand is developing Raffles City in Bahrain Bay; a unique 45,000m² residential and retail development that is due for phased completion in 2010.

Another development underway in Bahrain is Marina West - a new residential development on the Kingdom's west coast. It will feature a hotel by Turkish hotel company Rixos. The Rixos Marina West Hotel will be a beachfront property, scheduled to open in April 2010, that "will bridge the rich lifestyle of ancient Turkish culture with modern day luxury. Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa officially went ‘smoke-free' in January, introducing a non-smoking policy for all restaurant venues and public areas. The voluntary initiative encompasses all restaurants, lounges, lobby and public spaces, including the sports club and spa areas. Smoking is still permitted in certain designated areas, including the banqueting rooms.

"We have received very positive feedback in regard to this trend-setting policy and we are proud to have this opportunity to make such a significant contribution to environmental protection," says general manager Bernard N Viola.

"It is of utmost importance to us to consistently enhance the experiences of today's health-conscious guests - individual travellers and families alike."

The property has also introduced a new extensive range of medi-spa options, including microdermabrasion and endermologie.

A planned expansion of the spa will increase the amount of male treatment rooms to better cater to hotel guests, day visitors and health club members.

City Centre Mall

While Bahrain may not be in the same league as Dubai or Singapore when it comes to attracting shopping tourism, the city now has the facilities to cater to the most dedicated retail addicts.

In addition to the traditional Manama Souk, the city boasts a range of malls, including the Moda Sheraton Complex in Bahrain's World Trade Centre; the popular Seef Mall; Bahrain Mall; Marina Mall and Dana Mall.

The new City Centre Mall is home to more than 350 stores, a 5000m² family entertainment centre, a 20-screen cinema, the Middle East's largest indoor water park and a 16,000m² Carrefour market.

The friendship bridge

The King Fahad Causeway is a 25-km bridge that connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. It is a key source of tourism, with many Saudi Arabian tourists travelling to Bahrain for weekends and short breaks. A second ‘friendship bridge' will be constructed to join Bahrain with Qatar. Construction was scheduled to begin in January 2009, but is expected to be pushed back as final costs are recalculated.

The causeway is expected to open in 2013 and will be the world's largest marine bridge, spanning more than 40 kilometres. The project will also include freight and passenger rail lines.

Bahrain diaryMarch - April:Spring of Culture

Local, regional and international performers in music, dance, visual art, poetry and philosophy. Visit: www.springofculture.org

April:The 4th Annual Gulf Jazz Festival in Kuwait and Bahrain

Visit:www.gulfjazzfest.com

Now - April:Bahrain Equestrian and Endurance

Horse sports, racing, show jumping and long distance endurance racing.

Call +973 1744 0330.

Visit:www.equestrianbahrain.com

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Marcus 11 years ago

This all sound very good but in the reality something else is happening in Bahrain. MP's are working on a total ban on Alcohol in the country and a total ban of pork with threats of up to 3 months in jail for "pork-possesion". And this is just the beginning. Bahrain a future tourist destination? I don't think so.

honest 11 years ago

Mr. Marcus comments are rediculus. that is the tourists will only come to any place if they can drink Alchohol and eat pork. We do not want this type of tourism.

Shakeel 11 years ago

I am rather shocked that Marcus being in a Muslim country doesn't know those two items are "haram" and Bahrain legislative has the right to put a complete fullstop. If you want to earn an income from selling and profiting from the sale of those items and others which are haram to a particular religion, then by at all means you should walk away as you will succumb to unknown gradually. Islamic tourism would be ideal and create niche market for neighboring countries to explore and shift to as a holiday destination. Tourism can survive without the means of negative or haram products on shelves. Western ideolgies need not prevail and we can survive without them. I urge more Islamic countries to follow suit of Bahrain andopt changes in their laws and do the same and denounce negative streotypes and products.

Nabiha Ali 11 years ago

I believe its a good step taken by the authorities in Bahrain, we cannot accept what is against our religious and cultural values. And tourists at the end of the day should respect these values when on foreign soil. There are things we as Muslims put up with too without making a big deal! However, Bahrain will have to offer more attractions and incentives to the expats to encourage groth in toursim sector.

Jasim 11 years ago

I dont think the MPs in bahrain will finally go through with the ban, if there is one..i've heard that they were trying to ban alcohol from the airport and thats it. Bahrain depends on tourism somewhat and Alcohol certainly encourages that a great deal. Banning it will directly affect the economy.

Nabiha Ali 11 years ago

I dont believe you really have to count on alcohol supply within a state to determine how well your economy develops! Sure, there are clubs, outlets where these are specifically served for people (foreigners) who need these. But to only concentrate on a lifestyle that is completely Western, why would you want to travel to an Arab country as a tourist - to see something different and explore their culture or live your same life style back ??!!

Sam 11 years ago

Back in the hay days Bahrain was growing at unprecedented speed. It was the bench mark of Middle East standards. A beautiful lush island with not only natural beauty but a lot of history. The pearl of the Middle East is was for sure. Those glory days suddenly took a nose dive. I think what makes a country is its leader and his vision. Now when it’s replaced with house full of Baboons as MP’s who have to feel important and know that they can do this by only by creating a racket on senseless issues. Ban everything, go back to the camel one would say and 300 would just nod. What made the Arab country truly an envy were then the leaders and now when it’s slowly is replaced by democracy who think its their only term to make some cash and then create a controversy so that everyone is looking elsewhere. If you really want to improve any situation in any country or organization you need to know what you want. If you roam around like head less chicken it truly is waste of time and energy. If they want tourism they should be tourist friendly. If not they should find other mean to generate income? You some time can’t have it both ways and learn so only when it’s too late. Coming to this subject relating to Alcohol and tourism. I don’t know if think you have enough non drinking tourists to have a flourishing business. But from what I saw Bahrain’s main business was from the Saudi’s who wanted to be free of regulations and so they came and had a party in Bahrain. Now they intend to remove this environment and build a bridge to Qatar.. the Saudi’s would drive via Bahrain to Qatar instead or may be Dubai even .Why bother with a country where there is limited or no special options. I think if you plan to cater to Non-Muslims they should have everything that makes them comfortable yet legally accepted world wide. I suggest never to mix politic and religion, it’s known recipe for disaster. I am sure no foreigner force fed you pork or just for kinks made you drink alcohol. It’s a matter of choice don’t you think. It’s like having morning cup of Suleimani (Arab Black Tea) some where in las vegas just so that you feel still as home. Human tendency... Is to experience the new but still retain what is habitual to feel comfortable. Treat your guest exactly how you want to be treated in their home. What say?