Causeway lifeline for Bahrain business
Manama, April 19, 2011
Things are looking up for the country's hotels, restaurants and malls following the opening of the King Fahad Causeway last Thursday.
Although there were no reports of a rush across the bridge to Bahrain over the weekend, some sectors did report an increase in custom thanks to visitors from Saudi Arabia.
The causeway, which previously handled as many as 60,000 vehicles a day on weekends, has largely been closed to Saudi traffic for the past two months - with only those holding Bahraini identity cards showing they worked or studied here allowed to cross.
However, the lifting of those restrictions has thrown a lifeline to Bahraini businesses that rely on Saudi riyals.
'Better is the word I would use,' said Seef Properties general manager Robert Addison, when asked to describe the turnout at Seef Mall over the weekend.
'It's not back up to the full levels it was before, but hopefully it's a sign of things to come.
'I think many of the people over from Saudi Arabia last weekend will have been testing the water because a lot of them probably weren't sure if it was open, or if it was safe to come across.
'Once word spreads now that it's open and things are OK then I think we'll see better numbers coming across.'
A BD1 million aid package has been lined up for shops in Seef Mall, which has suffered as a result of protests and curfews and is lining up a major promotional drive to encourage shoppers to return.
'We're cautiously optimistic about the next two to three weeks,' added Addison.
'We have a huge promotional programme taking place this weekend and this will certainly be marketed and advertised in the Eastern Province (of Saudi Arabia).'
He said the most important thing now was to ensure security and comfort for people visiting Bahrain, as well as guarantees that visitors from Saudi Arabia will be able to make it back home across the causeway safely.
'If things are the same as they were the weekend just gone, or ideally five or 10 per cent better, then I won't be complaining,' he added.
Business in the Adliya dining district has also picked up over the last few days, according to representatives of some of the country's most popular restaurants.
'Things have definitely improved over the weekend,' said Meat Company regional manager Hussain Al Araibi.
'We're almost back to normal now and the increase in revenue reflects that.
'I would say we are up to about 90 per cent of the business we were operating at before, which is up by about 30 per cent on the previous weekend.
'The Saudi market is a big one for us, but we also have a big market of local customers here in Bahrain as well.'
Oliveto managing partner and executive chef Paulo Arca echoed some of Al Araibi's sentiments, but refused to get carried away.
'Things were slightly better over the weekend, but this needs time,' he said.
'Maybe in another two or three weeks we will be able to see for sure.'
Hotels in Bahrain have also been enjoying increased activity, but said they were a long way from being full.
Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry tourism committee chairman Nabeel Kanoo revealed earlier this month that Bahrain's tourism industry lost more than BD189 million in the first six weeks of unrest.
'Things are certainly better than before, but we are still only up to about 15 or 20 per cent occupancy,' said Caravan Group of Hotels director Shaikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa, whose group includes the Delmon International Hotel, Adhari Hotel and Aradous Hotel.
'I don't think these improvements are necessarily from the Saudi side because I think it will take time for people to return from Saudi.
'I'm sure there are still people who don't know that the causeway is open or how safe it is so hopefully things will get better soon.'
Diplomat Radisson Blu Hotel, Residence and Spa acting general manager Sergio Fernandes said his property did witness an increase in activity over the weekend, but added it was still a long way short of normal.
'Yes there has been a reasonable change,' he said.
'However, our expectation has not been met. We are hopeful that things will improve in the coming days and especially on the weekends.
'Compared to the previous weeks, we have seen our hotel lobby being alive and observed more movements.
'In terms of our food and beverage outlets, our customers certainly increased this weekend - especially during the Friday brunch - and we are hopeful this will continue.'
BCCI retail committee chairman Jawad Al Hawaj said the opening of the causeway was vital for the country's private sector.
'Frankly, the Bahraini markets depend on visitors from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere around the Gulf,' he said.
'The reopening of the causeway has definitely shown an improvement for business, but we still need time.
'The situation is still improving and the security is getting better so, once people become more confident, they will want to come back.
'There has been a good change in the last few days, probably about 20 per cent, but it's a step-by-step thing.
'We are confidant things will keep getting better over the next few weeks.'-TradeArabia News Service