New strain hits travel agents and hoteliers

HOTELIERS and travel agents in Bahrain are in a state of flux following measures taken by some countries after the emergence of a new variant of the coronavirus (Covid-19).

Hotels had planned special Christmas brunches and New Year events, while travel agents were expecting air travel to pick up during the festive season.

However, the new variant of the virus has further strained the country’s already distressed hospitality sector.


“We are right now dealing with cancellations due to the closure of the Saudi border; we were really looking forward to host a good New Year event,” Elite Hospitality Group chief operating officer Sarosh Aibara told the GDN.

“Even for the Christmas brunch the numbers do not look good at all compared with last year, and most of the hotels are facing the same problem.

“We hoteliers were really looking forward to the last two weeks of this month to do some business but it’s a big blow for us; with the new variant, no one will take any chances.”

He said many hotels had invested in décor, DJ and other requirements in anticipation of a bumper festive season.

Mr Aibara said the road to recovery in 2021 has been further extended due to the latest developments.

“We urge the government to continue paying citizens’ salaries in the most affected sectors, including hospitality, along with waiver of fees and, most importantly, shoulder the utility bills of hotels.”

Following the announcement of the new Covid-19 variant in the UK, more than 40 countries suspended travel links with the country.

Closer home, Bahrain’s national carrier Gulf Air suspended all flights to and from Saudi Arabia until December 28 over fears about the new virus, with Saudi Arabia suspending entry through its land and seaports for at least a week.

However, the GDN has learned that Bahrain residents were allowed to cross the King Fahad Causeway with some returning on Tuesday.

Saudi authorities are yet to announce full lifting of restrictions on two-way travel over the 25km-long bridge.

“The causeway is the main artery for the tourism sector based on the number of arrivals and the vistor spending, and I think until its fully reopened next year there should be no events planned especially in hotels,” said Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) hospitality and tourism committee deputy chairman Hameed Al Halwachi.

“Hotels did not do any business during Eid and Formula One this year and I think two weeks now will not make much of a difference.”


Crowne Plaza general manager Bruno Hivon expected business as usual, despite a few cancellations for the New Year event.

“Bahrain has not closed its borders and there is no need to panic as we plan to conduct events while adhering to health protocols,” he said.

The average occupancy rates in five-star hotels fell to 69 per cent, with four-star hotels seeing a similar decline to 74pc, according to the Bahrain Economic Quarterly for Q2 released by the Finance and National Economy Ministry.

The report stated that the hotels and restaurants sector was the most affected by the pandemic.

The sector also witnessed minimal growth despite the staging of two consecutive F1 races without the attendance of spectators.

Hoteliers say it will take until 2024 for the sector to fully rebound, with partial recovery starting by the fourth quarter of next year.

Meanwhile, Association of Bahrain Travel and Tour Agents chairman Jehad Amin told the GDN the new developments over the new Covid-19 variant has “caused chaos again”.

“There are a lot of cancellations as people are cutting down their trips,” he said.

“Travel agents are busy with administrative work such as cancelling or rescheduling travel dates as many countries have sealed their borders.”

Mr Amin stated the industry was hoping to earn some dinars during the last “crucial weeks” of this month, but that was not going to happen.

He added it was highly unlikely the causeway would re open on January 1 as many are expecting.




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