BAHRAIN needs to diversify its tourism sector away from being heavily dependant on Saudi tourists, amidst an austerity drive underway in the Gulf countries, according to a top hotelier.
Manama is expected to welcome between 11 million to 12m visitors by the end of this year – with a majority of them entering through the King Fahd Causeway.
It’s imperative for policy-makers to rethink their tourism strategies for long-term growth, said Wyndham Hotel Group’s Middle East and Africa regional vice-president Ignace Bauwens.
“Middle East is the only region where Room Revpar (RevPAR) declined by 5.6 per cent last year,” he told the GDN.
“Markets in Europe, the US, South Africa and North Africa did well.
“The big issue in the Middle East is that supply is outgrowing demand.”
RevPAR is the total bedroom revenue for the period divided by the total available rooms.
According to latest data, Bahrain witnessed a 11.8pc RevPar decline last year.
“If you start zooming in the Middle East, then GCC countries suffered because of RevPar decline in general for three consecutive years.
“We have started to suffer now because of the cuts made due to low oil prices three years ago.”
Mr Bauwens pointed out that investments were made into hotel projects in the GCC countries after deals were signed between 2008 and 2010.
“The average time for constructing a hotel is between seven to eight years – and now all of them are coming up in Dammam, Dubai, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
“But the bigger question is: What are we doing to bring in more visitors?”
Overall, there was between 50 per cent to 55pc hotel occupancy in Bahrain last year, said the Dubai-based hotelier.
“There are about 80,000 apartments in Bahrain driven by the Saudi market in the form of families visiting during the weekend.
“We cannot rely on one market which poses a risk because if that segment is out, there will be issues.”
However, he said Manama is better placed for the midscale market, adding that his group plans to open new hotels.
“There is a new generation of travellers in need of a decent room with a good WiFi connection and at a good price.
“Our Super 8 and Tryp by Wyndham (midscale) brands are definitely on the cards for Bahrain.
“I still believe that by offering budget rooms at the right price, there will be people coming and it will be profitable for the owner.
“A perfect room, about 20sqm, well maintained under an international brand for $60 to $70 per night will be a good deal, with visitors coming here to spend their weekends.”
Mr Bauwens said 80pc of Bahrain’s tourism sector is Saudi driven, adding that austerity measures in that country could affect Bahrain.
“We need to diversify. I am aware of the new exhibition centre coming up in Sakhir and the $1.1 billion Airport Modernisation Programme which will boost tourism.
“Bahrain does not need to get into big meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) business but instead focus on the midscale market.
“For example, in Bahrain between 10pc-15pc of hotel inventory is five-star hotels while the major bulk is apartment business for Saudi families and then other hotels.”
Air connectivity was also important, he said, citing the success story of Dubai because of Emirates airline’s wide connectivity to various destinations.
“There needs to be more connectivity and budget airlines to attract more tourists from other countries to Bahrain especially from the East.”
He also suggested an advisory board be set up, led by the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority and hotel operators, to hold regular meetings to discuss the tourism sector.
“We in the GCC cannot all fight for the same pie.”
A total of 8.7m visitors entered Bahrain in the first nine months of last year (2017) compared with 7.7m visitors in 2016.
They spent BD919m during their stay in Bahrain, with an average daily spending of BD74.
There are ongoing tourism projects worth $32bn that aims to help the economy for the next four years.
The Wyndham Hotel Group global portfolio consists of 8,000 hotels with approximately 689,800 rooms in 76 countries.
In Bahrain, it operates the Wyndham Grand Manama, Wyndham Garden, Days Hotel Manama, Ramada Bahrain, Ramada Manama City Centre and Ramada Hotel and Suites Amwaj Islands representing a total of 1,191 rooms.