Bahrain travel firms hit by new rules
Manama, April 25, 2011
Tour operators in Bahrain who arrange trips for thousands of pilgrims to Iran and Iraq every year have been forced to diversify to new destinations, after the government advised its citizens against going there.
Airlines have already suspended flights to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon until the end of the month, while the government has advised Bahrainis not to visit all three countries.
It follows allegations that Iran and Lebanon-based guerilla group Hizbollah were interfering in Bahrain's internal affairs.
As a result, one 'caravan' operator said he was swapping religious pilgrimages for package holidays in the Far East.
'We do not only do pilgrimage tours,' said Zakareya Ebrahim Al Kadhem, whose family business Al Kadhem for Caravans is one of the country's largest transport companies used by pilgrims.
'We also take groups of people to the Far East and China, among other countries. We have only started to concentrate on those other countries again now.'
There are certain seasons for pilgrimages to Iran and Iraq, with the next one due to start at the end of next month and continue throughout the summer. However, Al Kadhem said the security of Bahrain must come first.
'We have our businesses, but we also have a responsibility towards our country and that takes precedence over everything else,' he said. 'We have all operations to these three countries suspended for the time being, but we can make business elsewhere. Business will come and go, but the country has to remain strong.”
'If there is a directive from the government for us not to go to some countries, we respect that in the interest of safety and security.'
Some people make trips to religious sites in Iran and Iraq all year round, but travel agents say hardly anyone is going - even though they can still get there by transiting through other countries.
Dadabhai Travel director Aziz Gilitwala confirmed there had been virtually no demand from people wanting to visit Iran, Iraq or Lebanon in the last few weeks.
'We see no real requirement and have noticed no-one is travelling to these countries from Bahrain,' he said. 'There are, however, options available if someone wants to travel - so we book them via Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha on other airlines.'
His comments were echoed by another travel agent who spoke on condition of anonymity.
'We are not aware if some are going via other countries, but we have made virtually no bookings,' said the agent.
He added he was hoping travel restrictions to Iran and Iraq would be lifted by the time the pilgrimage season starts.
'Hopefully, when the travel and pilgrimage season starts in the next few weeks, we shall have the advisory revised,' he said. – TradeArabia News Service