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Hotels and malls evolve in Bahrain’s battle for tourists

To win over the region's visitors, Bahrain is adapting to changing expectations

Marassi Galleria Bahrain mall Marassi Al Bahrain
The Marassi Galleria, which opened earlier this year, is Bahrain's first beachfront mall

Bahraini hospitality and retail players may have to up their game amid evolving consumer expectations.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, shopping habits and hotel preferences are becoming more sophisticated. Visitor figures to Bahrain have nearly recovered but consumer expectations have progressed. 

Tourists are looking for trendy and accessible places to stay. Affordable hotels that also provide a quality experience, particularly those with connections to shopping malls, are becoming popular accommodation choices. 

Similarly, Bahrain’s residents are looking for variety in the way they spend their free time, with shopping malls required to adapt to keep up with expectations and provide enriching experiences.

Shopping habits are changing. The rise of e-commerce, as well as the sheer volume of retail options in Bahrain, mean that shopping malls in the kingdom are required to diversify to attract footfall.

Consumers in Bahrain still do the majority of their shopping in-store, preferring to see and experience products in person before committing to buying. 

However, retail itself is no longer enough of a draw for many consumers; malls need to differentiate themselves to encourage people not just to visit, but to stay and spend time and money. 

The modern mall is a destination in and of itself, requiring entertainment and experiential offerings if it is to contend with its wide range of competitors – both bricks and mortar properties and online retail.

The Avenues, with its souq-style streetscape and its extensive food and beverage offering along its waterfront promenade, is a favourite of families both living in and visiting the kingdom.

The property’s extension, due for completion in 2025, will double its gross lettable area and is intended to increase its fashion retail and entertainment offerings.

Bahrain’s largest mall in terms of lettable area, Majid Al Futtaim’s City Centre, has altered its tenant mix over the last five years. 

The property now offers a broader range of entertainment options, including escape rooms, virtual reality gaming and bowling, in addition to the traditional cinema and family entertainment centre. 

Later in 2024, Time Out Market is due to open at the property, following its success in Dubai and other cities around the world – the first of its kind in Bahrain.

In what is already a saturated retail landscape, malls require selling propositions that are centred around the consumer experience

Marassi Galleria, new for 2024, is the region’s first beachfront mall, already offering something new due to its location.

Its range of entertainment and indoor/outdoor dining options, as well as allowing restaurants to be licensed, distinguishes the property from its competition.

In what is already a saturated retail landscape, malls require selling propositions that are centred around the consumer experience to set themselves apart.

Hotel preferences are shifting

CBRE’s data shows that consumers in Bahrain and the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia are prioritising affordability over luxury when planning a hotel stay.

In the wider GCC guests are increasingly choosing to stay at authentic experiential hotels over more standardised offerings. 

As a means to address this shift, hotel operators have been signing more ‘lifestyle hotels’ throughout the region, aiming to offer experiences grounded in the local market, yet backed by the benefits typically associated with recognised global brands.

This change in focus is in contrast to the existing hotel offering in Bahrain, which is dominated by more conventional properties. 

This is true across the market – from five-star luxury resorts to the more limited business traveller-targeted properties – which is indicative of a market gap. 

However, lifestyle positioning is not the only determinant of success. The increasing placement of hotels within multi-faceted, mixed-use schemes has created notable out-performance for some assets. 

For example, the four-star Hilton Garden Inn in Bahrain Bay, attached to the Avenues, has been proving particularly popular.

Its success is owed in part to its design, which nods towards the lifestyle trend, but also to its integration with a waterfront promenade and connection to a popular mall.

The Four Seasons Hotel in Bahrain Bay, Manama. Hotels and malls must diversify to stay competitiveSupplied
The Four Seasons Hotel in Bahrain Bay, Manama. Hotels and malls must diversify to stay competitive

Diversification is not just required of the retail and hotel sectors – it is symptomatic of Bahrain as a whole, as the kingdom contends with big regional players in the battle to attract tourists. 

Tourists also need reasons to stay for longer. Instead of just a Thursday and Friday night as is most common, the kingdom needs to encourage tourists to stay for more extended periods by offering them more attractions and activities.

This process has already begun: the openings of the Al Dana Amphitheatre and Exhibition World Bahrain in recent years are important steps in attracting a wider range of tourists. 

MICE tourism (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions), as well as tourists from outside the GCC, are also important demographics in enabling Bahrain to compete with other destinations in the region. 

Samantha Schiffman is senior analyst at CBRE Bahrain

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