Tourism in Bahrain: finding the hidden gems with Jumeirah CEO Gerald Lawless


With tourism in the spotlight in Bahrain this week, we were lucky enough to welcome one of the sector’s leading lights at the Capital Club Speaker Series, a series of events hosted at the prestigious Capital Club in Manama.

Gerald Lawless, immediate past chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council, began his stellar career at Forte Hotels, establishing and growing its Middle East operations before joining Jumeirah in 1997. He launched the world-famous Burj Al Arab, the world’s most luxurious hotel, and went on to become Jumeirah’s president and Group Chief Executive. Gerald’s remarkable hospitality career spans 40 years, including some time in Bahrain where he was the General Manager of the Diplomat Hotel.

Such a big name in the Gulf’s hospitality industry is at home anywhere in the region, but nowhere more so than in Bahrain, where a booming tourism sector attracts the world’s best. Tourism contributes 9.7% to the Bahrain economy, and accounts for $2.05 billion in exports and 58,000 jobs in the Kingdom.

Spend any time here in Bahrain and it’s not hard to see why. Whatever it is you’ve come to discover – history, culture, sport, food, shopping or leisure – Bahrain offers an unforgettable experience.

With a 4,000-year heritage stretching back to the ancient Dilmun civilisation, Bahrain is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Pearling Trail, where pearl divers plied their trade for centuries; and the Bahrain Fort, founded in 2300 BC and once the site of the Dilmun capital.

The Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix attracts more than 90,000 visitors each year to the Bahrain International Circuit. And for a flavour of contemporary Bahraini culture, the annual Spring of Culture festival showcases the Kingdom’s and the region’s talent in the performing arts.

These attractions and more are what bring 81% of first-time visitors to Bahrain back for longer stays.

So what are the external trends that are driving this important growth in the Kingdom?

Firstly, as Gerald revealed, tourism is a huge economic force globally as international travel becomes ever more routine and affordable. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism contributes 10.2% to the world economy, accounts for 6% of all global exports, and provides more than 292 million jobs worldwide.

Secondly, that global trend is translating to a rising number of expatriate visitors to the GCC, projected to grow 64% by 2021. In the same period, the region’s own population is set to grow by 2.5% and its disposable income by 4.5%. All this adds up to a sizeable regional advantage for the Gulf’s most desirable destinations – like Bahrain.

Thirdly, Bahrain’s impressive pipeline of $32bn in infrastructure projects signals even more of a boost to the Kingdom’s thriving tourism sector. These include a $1.1 billion modernisation of Bahrain International Airport – which will increase capacity from 9 to 14 million annual passengers by 2020. This expansion is being accompanied by programme to build a range of new five- and four-star hotels and resorts.

Tourism jobs are a top priority for any global destination, and that’s why public entities like the EDB are building on this success and partnering with some of the world’s leading players – including hotel groups such as Ritz-Carlton, Gulf Hotels Group and Jumeirah Hotels, airlines such as Gulf Air, Emirates and Etihad, and cruise lines including TUI and Noble Caledonia.

Homegrown private enterprises are also playing a key role. Founded by former tour operator Kyriako Zarkadas, Visit Bahrain brings together hotels, airlines, tour operators and ground services to deliver a seamless experience to visitors and showcase Bahrain’s hidden gems to the global industry at large. Visit Bahrain joins other established tour operators including Mathias Tourism and Go Bahrain in developing increased inbound visitor numbers.

Bahrain’s tour operators not only embody this bold new era for the Kingdom’s tourism sector, they also respect its need for authenticity. As Gerald – a sector veteran – was keen to stress, it’s crucial that destinations are careful to retain their integrity. In the case of Bahrain, he said, that integrity is in its people – warm, welcoming and eager to show you all the things they love about their island home.

Come and see for yourself.

Click here to find out more about the vast opportunities in Bahrain’s fast-growing Tourism and Leisure sector.

Jerad Bachar

Executive Director – Investment Development for Tourism, Real Estate, Education, Healthcare at EDB Bahrain

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