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Bahrain set for surge in visitors from Europe’s World Cup giants

Bahrain Creative Commons
Bahrain's capital Manama to welcome Western visitors during Qatar 2022
  • Boost for tourism as flight bookings from Germany, France and UK rise
  • Hotel accommodation is in short supply in the tournament host Qatar
  • Most visitors arrive by land – via the causeway with Saudi Arabia

Europeans are flocking to Bahrain this autumn, with flight bookings from Germany, France and the UK up significantly on pre-pandemic levels in what could be a World Cup windfall for the island’s tourism industry.

As nearby Qatar prepares to host the tournament, which starts on November 20, an influx of tourists from defending champions France, serial winners Germany and group-stage rivals England and Wales seems to be no coincidence. 

Hotel accommodation in Qatar is in short supply and prices for the few remaining rooms are dizzying; the cheapest 11-night stay on for two fans to share a room for the group stage is £5,509 ($6,361).

“The Fifa World Cup in Qatar is set to benefit many Gulf destinations, including Bahrain,” said Olivier Ponti, a senior executive at travel analytics specialist ForwardKeys.

ForwardKeys data shows fourth-quarter flight bookings from the UK to Bahrain (as of October 12) are nearly double those of a year earlier and are up 31.5 percent versus the last three months of 2019, the final quarter before the pandemic ravaged the travel and tourism industries. 

Bookings from Germany and France are up 105 and 53 percent respectively, versus the fourth quarter of 2019. 

The UK accounts for 20.5 percent of all international flight bookings in the current quarter, while Saudi has 10.6 percent, India 8.1 percent, the UAE 7.4 percent and Germany 7.2 percent. 

Total bookings for travel to Bahrain between November 14 and December 24 are 3 percent ahead of the same period of 2019, whereas overall fourth-quarter bookings are up 1 percent, Ponti said. The surge in arrivals from Western Europe is offsetting a sizeable slump in visitors from the rest of the Gulf. 

In November 2021 Bahrain’s tourism, industry and commerce minister Zayed Alzayani announced that the kingdom aims to host 14.1 million tourists annually in 2026, by which time it hopes to have increased daily visitor spend to 74.8 dinars ($199) and the average stay to 3.5 days. 

The Four Seasons Hotel in Bahrain Bay, Manama. Picture: Supplied

This will lift tourism’s share of Bahraini GDP to 11.4 percent from around 7 percent, Alzayani said, although he did not provide current spending or visitor statistics. 

Bahrain welcomed 2.28 million international tourists in the second quarter of 2022, government data shows. This is the largest number of quarterly arrivals since the start of the pandemic and a nine-fold increase on the prior-year period – although still below Q2 2019 when the island hosted 2.78 million visitors. 

Second-quarter tourism revenue was $878.7 million, up from $132.7 million a year earlier but 9.5 percent lower than the $970.5 million in the corresponding period of 2019. 

Among international tourist visitors, 90.7 percent arrived by land – via the causeway with Saudi Arabia – plus 9.1 percent by air and 0.2 percent by sea. Overall, 89.3 percent of visitors were Saudi residents, 9.4 percent live in other GCC countries, 0.4 percent were from Europe, 0.2 percent from the wider Middle East, 0.3 percent from Asia and 0.4 percent from the US. 

By nationality, 1.58 million were Saudis, 174,908 were Indian, 66,159 were Kuwaiti, 62,176 were Egyptian and 56,602 were Pakistani. 

Data from hospitality analytics company STR shows Bahrain’s hotel occupancy was 48.9 percent in September. That compares with 46.0 percent and 49.9 percent in September 2021 and 2019 respectively. 

Revenue per available room, a key metric in the industry, has more than doubled from $37.30 in September 2020 to $81.90 last month, STR data shows.