Hospitality sector ‘will bounce back’

BAHRAIN’S hospitality and tourism sector has the potential to bounce back despite taking a hit due to the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, according to an expert.

This was highlighted during a webinar led by Economic Development Board (EDB) Bahrain’s Business Development, Real Estate and Tourism director Ali Muratza.

Hosted by Abid Butt and Sam Erik Ruttman, the discussions, aimed at reviewing the changing landscape of the hospitality industry in the region, were joined by leading hoteliers from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“The numbers (investment) we have show a healthy pipeline that continues to progress, but there has been some impact due to the present situation,” said Mr Murtaza.

“However, in the long term the sentiments in Bahrain are of resilience and adapting with innovative solutions.”

He said the hospitality and tourism sector had been impacted globally, including Bahrain, due to the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has definitely changed the way all of us function, and here in Bahrain we have the situation under control with the help of our medical services.

“As a nation we are doing exceptionally well and have even been complimented by the World Health Organisation.

“With regard to the hospitality industry, there are no tourists as planes are not flying and we rely heavily on King Fahad Causeway from where an estimated 85 per cent of our visitors arrive.

“That is about nine billion out of the 11 billion tourists we receive in a year.”

The causeway has been closed since March 8, while visa on arrival for nationalities were suspended from March 18 as part of travel restrictions to limit the spread of the virus.

Mr Murtaza said hotels in Bahrain were adapting to the unprecedented situation, with no Ramadan Iftar or activities.

Some hotels were delivering set menus to their customers, while others have been turned into quarantine facilities to provide paid services to those who do not wish to stay in the government quarantine facilities.

He also spoke about mega investment projects that Bahrain has undertaken such as the $8 billion to upgrade the national carrier, Gulf Air, $1.8bn for the new airport facility and $32bn of private and public infrastructure projects.

“The government has provided a BD4.3bn economic stimulus package that has covered three months’ salaries of Bahrainis working in the private and public sector, waived off utility bills for all accounts and in addition provided aid to businesses.”

He said no business model in the world was prepared to deal with the pandemic, but Bahrain’s identity remained strong for investors as a “perfect gateway to the Gulf”.

Also speaking during the webinar was Abu Dhabi National Hotels chief executive Khalid Anib who said the future of the hospitality sector in the Gulf would see a drastic shift.

He said advancements in the industry would see the introduction of keyless entry to rooms, online check-in and check-out, heavy investments in daily sanitisation of the property, and reconsidering amenities.

Mr Anib, who previously worked in Bahrain, said a complete rebound of the sector was uncertain due to the pandemic, but added it could take between eight months to a year.

The GDN reported previously that many staff including Bahrainis working in four- and five-star properties were asked to go on unpaid leave, accept pay cuts and outstanding wages due to the economic impact of Covid-19.

The Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s hospitality and tourism committee has forwarded a series of recommendations to help the sector, including paying 50pc of wages of those working in the sector as part of the proposed bail-out package.

The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts an expected fall of between 20pc to 30pc, which could translate into a decline in international tourism receipts (exports) of between $300bn to $450bn.

This would mean that between five and seven years’ worth of growth will be lost to Covid-19.

The hotels and restaurants sector in Bahrain recorded the highest non-oil sector annual growth at 6.8pc last year, according to the latest economic indicator report released by the Finance and National Economy Ministry.

The occupancy rates of four- and five-star hotels increased from 41pc and 49pc, respectively, in 2018 to 45pc and 52pc, respectively, in 2019.




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