Bahrain slashes visa fees by 80% for tourists

Known to draw hordes of employment seekers, the Gulf states now want Indians to explore their diverse landscape as they look to boost their tourism earnings. The region is betting big on Indians as they have emerged one of the biggest and highest spending globetrotters. At present, Dubai is the most sought-after destination in the Gulf region with 1.6 million Indians having visited the emirate in 2015.

To catch up with Dubai, other nations such as Bahrain are upping their play in the tourism sector by investing billions of dollars in infrastructure and are introducing tourist-friendly measures. As a first step, Bahrain has slashed visa fees by a huge 80%. Now, Indians will have to shell out only Bahraini Dinar 5 (Rs 889) instead of the earlier Bahraini Dinar 25 (Rs 4,446). “We want more Indians to explore the country’s history and its entertainment, including nightlife, and retail culture,” said Jerad Bachar, executive director (tourism) of Bahrain Economic Development Board. Bahrain is also pitching itself as a short-haul destination from India. The airfare and flight time for a Mumbai-Bahrain trip is more or less equal to a Mumbai-Delhi journey. “There is excellent air connectivity between Bahrain and India with 75 flights a week. Bahrain is undertaking a $1 billion airport expansion programme and once completed, it will be able to handle 14 million passengers from the current nine million,” Bachar added.

Besides, Bahrain’s tourism board is setting up its first office in India, an indication of its seriousness to draw traffic from the country as well as promote Bahrain as a niche destination.

Bahrain’s thrust on tourism is understandable. Unlike some Gulf states, whose income is fuelled by oil, Bahrain doesn’t have much oil reserves. Its economy is driven by financial services followed by tourism. Tourism contributed 5.3% to Bahrain’s revenue in 2015.
Bachar didn’t reveal the exact number of Indians that visited the kingdom in 2015 but said less than three lakh people from South Asia visited Bahrain, which in Arabic means two seas. After Dubai, Oman and Abu Dhabi are the most preferred destinations with 3 lakh and 2.80 lakh Indians having visited the two Gulf states respectively in 2015. In fiscal 2016, Indians spent $651.4 million (over Rs 4,000 crore) on outbound travel compared to $11 million (Rs 69 crore) in fiscal 2015, data from Reserve Bank of India showed.

The highest influx of tourists to Bahrain is from Saudi Arabia because of the proximity, but the nation, known as Island of Pearls, wants more Indians to explore its shores.



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