Bahrain traders banking on F1
Manama, April 5, 2013
Bahraini businesses are banking on the forthcoming Formula One weekend to help them make up for lost earnings due to unrest, a report said.
Commerce leaders told our sister publication the Gulf Daily News (GDN) there was an air of optimism in the country as it prepares to host the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix from April 19 to 21.
Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) board member and Midway Group chief executive Khalid Al Ameen said the event generated almost $500 million for the economy last year and hoped the figure would be exceeded this month.
"We are looking forward to a good race, a great weekend and very profitable business," he said.
"We have seen how successful last year's event was. This year will be even better, considering the enthusiasm. Last year, close to $500m was generated and this year we should make sure it is even more. The businesses are quite upbeat and will ensure they contribute their best."
Fellow BCCI board member and its hotels and tourism committee head, Nabeel Kanoo, said business was coming back despite more than two years of disruption.
"Though it is quite early and there is still a fortnight left for the event, there is a huge wave of optimism among the business community," he said. "We had a very successful event in 2012 and by the looks of it, this year's race is going to be even better."
Kanoo, a director at Yousef bin Ahmed Kanoo, added the hotel industry in particular was hoping for a boost.
"By experience we know there will be a lot of people coming in just before the race kicks off on April 19. So they are also optimistic," he said.
Another trader and senior BCCI official, who would not be named, suggested that traders in the Manama suq should come together and launch promotions and special offers to attract people to the area in the next few weeks - particularly during the race weekend.
"Unfortunately, no specific plans have been made by the government authorities yet, except that the popular Bab Market has been extended to the end of this month," he said. "Several hundred people are visiting the market every weekend and it is expected to draw crowds when the race takes place."
He urged traders in the suq, which is struggling with falling visitor numbers, to seize the initiative in the absence of any special Formula One arrangements by the government or the BCCI.
"We have seen the crowds during the days of the Bab Market, and a lot of people who ordinarily would not visit the suq are now going there," he said. "If traders get together and organise their own promotions, it would help."
He acknowledged that flash protests by anti-government groups in the area posed law and order problems, but said it was up to businesses in the area to act.
"The Formula One weekend is a great opportunity for everyone to showcase Bahrain," he said. "We cannot deny we are suffering financially, but we have to chip in to help the country."
The Bab Market has been extended until the end of this month. It is now taking place every Saturday and a Culture Ministry official said it could be extended further.
"It has proved very popular and the footfall is increasing," he said. "We want to extend it to cover other areas of the old suq, but will plan that out later."
Traders in the suq have accused the government of doing too little to support them as they contend with modern air-conditioned malls, parking problems and concerns about anti-government demonstrations.
However, the Culture Ministry official said that wasn't the case.
"We have initiated a number of projects in the suq that will be completed in the next few months," he said. "More projects aimed at attracting tourists are being planned and will take off soon."
He was responding to complaints by businesses in the heart of Manama who claimed they had essentially been abandoned.
"We have been left in the lurch by the government and all bodies concerned," said a spokesman for suq traders. We need urgent help and officials should realise that. We want to do a lot, but we have to be helped to get back on our feet first."
Retail trade in the suq area reportedly dropped by 80 per cent following anti-government protests in February, 2011 and gold traders said they were particularly affected - losing millions.
BCCI board member and its retail and traditional markets committee head Jawad Al Hawaj previously said development plans for the suq had not been implemented due to a repeated change of ministers in charge of municipalities and urban planning, too many people taking decisions and a lack of funds. – TradeArabia News Service