Bahrain's boutique appeal

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Ramy Salameh is on the grid to check out Bahrain’s Expo City, part of a new formula for event success.

 

‘Boutique’ is certainly the buzz word in Bahrain.

Gulf Air, the national airline even uses the word ‘Boutique’ as a differentiator among the larger airlines, relating it to the design of their products and customer experience. 

Campbell-Gray Hotel Group recently opened ‘The Merchant House’, the Kingdom’s first true luxury boutique property, located in the financial harbour zone of Manama. Indeed, the Kingdom itself could be classed as ‘boutique’, covering just 760sq.km and comprising 33 islands; the two largest being the modern capital Manama, and the former capital Muhurraq. However, this compact destination manages to pack a heavyweight punch in terms of a long heritage, married with its culture, lifestyle, and modern business and events output. 

The strategy is to create a hub Island Kingdom destination for the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries. Bahrain recorded 12m visitors in 2018 and the direct contribution of tourism as a non-oil sector in GDP terms has increased from 4.6% to 6.5%. 

 

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In September 2019, Bahrain will host the region’s largest Chinese Trade Expo, with 100 Chinese firms coming to showcase their products and services at the China Machinery Fair. This will run in conjunction with the annual Gulf Industry Fair, to be held at the Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre (BIECC). This is a big win for the Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority (BTEA). 

Another big statement of intent is the planned construction of the Convention and Exhibition Expo City in Sakhir, scheduled to open in mid-2021. The Expo City is nearby the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), covering an area of 308,000sqm. To put this in perspective, the new Exhibition and Convention Centre will be 10 times larger than BIECC, with 10 exhibition halls spanning 95,000sqm, while the footprint of the building area alone covers 149,000 sqm. The cluster will also include hotels with a combined capacity of 1,200 rooms. 

Sakhir also regularly hosts the world’s elite F1 drivers at BIC. Indeed, Bahrain was the first GCC country to host Formula 1. 

The MICE industry is a key pillar of the national economy, as is the realisation of several major real estate projects. The two industries came together at the second edition of the Bahrain Real Estate Expo 2019, held in Bahrain City Centre Mall in February.   

All of these key strands feed into Bahrain government’s over-arching ‘Economic Vision 2030’. 

 

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Bahrain International Airport will this year bring a new terminal on stream helping Gulf Air to facilitate develop its new fleet and stopover packages for passengers travelling on to destinations such as Bangkok, Manila and key cities in India, Sri Lanka. It will also be a springboard to attract more events. The resulting capacity increase of passenger arrivals is expected to jump to 14m per year. 

Part of the airport’s modernisation programme is a new Private Jet Terminal, a move to attract HNWI from the region. This kind of traffic could certainly help to sustain major exhibitions, such as Jewellery Arabia, the Middle East’s premier jewellery and watch exhibition which attracts 50,000 visitors.

While the Kingdom has a strong banking sector, second only to oil and a leader in the global Islamic financing arena, it has not forgotten about developing its ‘soft power’ credentials, in terms of arts, culture and sport and ArtBAB, is Bahrain’s leading contemporary Art Fair and a big investment in the creative economy. 

Informa Markets Bahrain GM Adam Ridgway is one advocate of Bahrain: “Our role as an exhibition organiser is to create an environment which allows businesses to flourish. Bahrain has excellent transport links with the GCC and the world at large. This strategic location combines with world-class infrastructure, good exhibition facilities, a relaxed and friendly culture and excellent leisure and dining options to make it a perfect place for both business and pleasure.” 

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