A strong return to pre-pandemic levels of tourism has been predicted in Bahrain as the island nation prepares to reopen the King Fahd Causeway to Saudi Arabia.
Like elsewhere in the region, Bahrain has reported a steady rise in cases of Covid-19, up to 649 infections on February 14 compared with just 114 in mid-November.
The King Fahd Causeway was due to reopen on March 31, but that date has been pushed back to May 17.
The causeway has been closed since March 8 last year under strict restrictions enforced in the country to control the spread of coronavirus.
It will allow Saudi citizens to travel into the country by road, and offer a billion-dollar financial boost to the economy, experts predict.
A suspension on international flights is also due to be lifted on the same date, allowing Saudi citizens back into the country via air, land and sea.
"Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have had longstanding tourism and trade ties, with trade between our two countries growing 43 per cent during the third quarter of 2020," said Dr Ali Al Moulani, president of the Bahrain Economists Society.
“The recent announcement made about permanently opening the King Fahad Causeway will strengthen these ties even further.
"The number of visitors from Saudi Arabia is set to gradually go back to normal levels following this announcement and expected to add about $2.9 billion to Bahrain's economy this year based on average tourist spending in 2019."
Prior to the pandemic, Bahrain welcomed about 11 million tourists with more than 88 per cent coming through the causeway.
The King Fahd Causeway was opened in 1986, and today it is one of the busiest land border crossings in the Middle East.
An estimated 390 million passengers have used the bridge since its opening.
High-tech artificial intelligence scanners have been installed in the bridge by Bahrain Customs to allow for automated data collection of those crossing into the country.
It allows customs officials to complete easy shipment inspections, before reaching the border.
Once travel restrictions are removed, thousands of visitors are expected to cross into Bahrain to offer a timely boost to the kingdom's tourism and hospitality sector.
The causeway's scheduled reopening follows an industrial boost from the US and the announcement of a new free trade zone in Bahrain to enhance bilateral relations.
The zone will ease export operations along the causeway and allow US companies in Bahrain to operate goods-exchange activities.
It builds on an existing free trade agreement between the two nations ratified in 2006 that has led to increased bilateral merchandise.
In 2019 trade between the two nations was worth $2.45 billion with an additional $1.5bn of trade in services.
Bahrain ranks fourth on the global list of Covid-19 vaccinations, with 8.5 per cent of its 1.7 million population inoculated against the virus.