Bahrain prepares for tourism return with Saudi Arabia to open causeway and flights

Saudi Arabia ready to lift travel restrictions on May 17 and neighbouring Bahrain is getting ready to welcome visitors

A medical inspector hands documents back to an American national in a car as he crosses from Saudi Arabia into Bahrain at an immigration checkpoint on the King Fahd Causeway that reopened after coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions were eased, at the Bahrain-Saudi border, Bahrain, September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
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Tourism and hospitality leaders in Bahrain are preparing for a surge of visitors from Saudi Arabia as international borders reopen later this month. They hope to recover huge losses suffered during the pandemic.

Once restrictions are lifted on May 17, officials expect visitor numbers from the kingdom to return to pre-pandemic levels and offer a much needed economic boost.

Figures from the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority showed visitor numbers in the first quarter of 2020 were almost half that of the previous year.

Two million tourist nights were recorded, compared with 4.1 million in the same three-month period of 2019.

Many visitors travelled to Bahrain from Saudi Arabia via the King Fahd Causeway, but that was closed on March 8, 2020, because of Covid-19.

We look forward to welcoming our neighbours back to the country

"The reopening of the KSA/Bahrain border is extremely welcome for businesses of all shapes and sizes across Bahrain who consider our connection to Saudi Arabia a strategic artery for ongoing growth," said Sameer Nass, chairman of the Bahrain Chambers of Commerce and Industry (BCCI).

“Our long-standing trade and tourism ties with Saudi Arabia are set to flourish once again in 2021.

"The progress both countries have made towards implementing safety measures against Covid-19 means that we can now look ahead to a time when the causeway will be open on a permanent basis.

“We look forward to welcoming our neighbours back to the country.”

As the global pandemic took hold, visitor numbers to Bahrain fell by 92 per cent in March 2020, from 1,154,318 to just 92,046.

Officials hope a rapid bounce-back could mean a $2.9 billion boost to Bahrain’s economy as tourists begin to return to the island state.

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have long-standing tourism and trade ties.

Trade between the two countries grew 43 per cent during the third quarter of 2020.

The recent announcement made about permanently opening the King Fahad Causeway will strengthen those ties further, it is hoped.

Saudi Arabia will lift the ban on travel for its vaccinated citizens on May 17, allowing movement by land, air and sea.

Vaccinated adults who have received both doses, or one dose 14 days prior to the date of departure, will be allowed to travel, as will all Saudis aged under 18 and those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months.

Saudia airlines on Wednesday issued guidelines for 38 countries for when borders reopen. Bahrain, like other Gulf states, is listed.

Before the pandemic, Bahrain welcomed about 11 million tourists, with about 88 per cent of them arriving across the King Fahd causeway.

“The number of visitors from Saudi Arabia is set to gradually go back to normal levels,” said Dr Ali Al-Moulani, President of the Bahrain Economists Society.

“It is expected to add about $2.9 billion to Bahrain’s economy this year based on average tourist spending in 2019.”

Saudia airlines issues travel guidelines to 38 countries