Whenever I have interviewed hoteliers, they have always moaned about the lack of tourism sites in Bahrain to hold the attention of visitors for more than a couple of days. As we all know, the real revenue is not in the number of tourists who visit a place but in the length of stay – the longer the better.
Bahrain has, of course, added much more value to its attractions and showcases its antiquity beautifully. It is the more contemporary additions to the tourist circuit that were often found a bit wanting. But then we have excellent cultural shows, we have the F1 and motor sports and more recently, sporting events like the Iron Man race that brings the world to Bahrain.
In an archipelago of islands, one thing that was always missed was access to public beaches. It would seem that we are going to dig deep and provide alternatives to this with the world’s largest eco-friendly underwater theme park. What an exquisite irony that the theme park is at the doorstep of Amwaj Islands, which is itself one of the most successful and largest patch of reclaimed land in Bahrain, that must have changed the kingdom’s marine environment considerably.
In recent times, Bahrain has made excellent efforts to tap its pearling past as a heritage showcase and also as a tourism drive. The filling in of the sea to accommodate the kingdom’s growing population is an inevitable price that we pay for our contemporary life, I guess. But the period from the early 2000s till now has probably been the most challenging for environmentalists and the government as they strive to strike a fine balance between recognising and catering to the demand for a comfortable lifestyle and an eco-sensitive approach to land reclamation.
Land developers seem to have had fewer qualms and in the coastal areas, fishermen have been complaining bitterly about being cut off from the sea as their jetties and landing areas become fewer and farther placed. Meanwhile, land reclamation has meant that they have to go deeper into the sea for their catch and even the favourite local fish, the hamour, is not so easy to come by in Bahrain waters.
The eco-sensitive underwater theme park is a great idea but it will surely be a ticketed access – and in order to even maintain it well, the ticket price will be ... not cheap, shall we say? Besides, an underwater galleon or ship to explore, I can understand – and so can the fish. A sunken aeroplane is a rather strange thing to have in a theme park that is all about enjoyment because it resonates of an accident.
Having seen how Adhari Park with its lovely rides and LPOD, the largest water park in Bahrain, both struggle to make ends meet, I would say we also need to complement such ambitious and innovative attractions with simple pleasures that are inexpensive, if not free.
Bahrain should not be charging residents and tourists for access to beaches, for one thing. We have sunshine for 360 days of the year – perfect for outdoor attractions. Let us mine those features of the Bahrain life too and make them accessible to all, so that we have a well-rounded tourism calendar.