MANAMA, Bahrain—Of the 18 people attending our “Abraham Accords Delegation of Evangelical Business Leaders and Media,” I am the only one who has ever been to the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Most tell me that they never imagined coming here and knew almost nothing about the country before I invited them to participate in this ALL ISRAEL NEWS/ALL ARAB NEWS initiative.
But everyone in the group is now thrilled with the kindness, friendliness and hospitality of the Bahraini people, the beauty, peace and advancement of this island nation, and their desire to return and to encourage others to visit as well.
A HIDDEN PEARL
I call modern Bahrain – once a sleepy British protectorate known for fishing and pearling – a hidden pearl in the Gulf.
Its ultra-modern capital, Manama, is a high-tech hub for oil and gas interests. It also serves as a thriving financial services center in the Arab and Islamic world, filled with towering steel and glass skyscrapers.
In that sense, it reminds me a bit of Dallas and Houston.
But the country also conjures up images of the Caribbean – the US and British Virgin Islands, for example – with exquisite beaches, ubiquitous palm trees, beautiful resort hotels and so many family activities on land and on the water.
A view of Bahrain’s capital, Manama (Photo: ALL ARAB NEWS)
MAN POINT FOR PROSPERITY
To better understand how the country is positioning itself for the future, I led the delegation to meet the government official whom I have dubbed Bahrain’s “benchmark man for prosperity”.
His Excellency Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani is the country’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism.
His job is to design and implement Bahrain’s aggressive economic growth strategy, and he sees the Abraham Accords being implemented as a cornerstone of that mission.
“There are two things I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” he told us the first time we sat down with him. “Me visiting Israel and women driving in Saudi Arabia.”
The Abraham Accords peace deal with Israel – which Bahrain signed at the White House on September 15, 2020 – changes everything, he told us, and he couldn’t be more excited.
The Tree of Life in Bahrain (Photo: ALL ARAB NEWS)
With the promise of increased peace and prosperity and the full blessing of His Majesty King Hamad, Al Zayani and his team are determined to dramatically expand tourism.
Until 2015, he said, Bahrain had never even had a national tourism strategy.
He relied mostly on visits from his next door neighbor. Indeed, Saudis historically accounted for around 80% of tourism in Bahrain.
Once Al Zayani and his colleagues devised a strategy, it proved extremely successful.
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bahrain hosted 11 million tourists. Not bad for a nation of only 1.5 million people.
But that’s not enough, Al Zayani said.
It has set a post-COVID goal of reaching 14 million tourists a year over the next few years.
Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani, Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism of Bahrain, meets with the Evangelical delegation led by Joel C. Rosenberg (Photo: ALL ARAB NEWS)
EXPANDING TOURIST INFRASTRUCTURE
To do this, the kingdom will always welcome Saudis, but they want to increase visits from other countries.
They are also aggressively and dramatically expanding its tourism infrastructure.
- Bahrain has just opened a beautiful and sparkling new international airport.
- Gulf Air – Bahrain’s flag carrier, of which Al Zayani is chairman – recently purchased 10 new 787 Dreamliner widebody aircraft from Boeing.
- Gulf Air is now working hard to get approval for direct flights from the US to Bahrain, likely starting in New York or Newark.
- Once this route is operational, Bahrain will launch major marketing campaigns aimed at Americans in general, and American Christians in particular.
- Bahrain will also soon step up its marketing efforts to attract Israelis. So far, only 3,000 Israelis have come since most COVID restrictions were lifted on March 1. But Al Zayani expects those numbers to rise. He has already made two visits to Israel in the past 18 months to negotiate and sign trade and tourism deals with the Jewish state. He plans a return visit in October.
- Bahrain has also about 70% completed construction of the region’s largest convention center and exhibition hall. Once completed, the country will start hosting regional and global conferences to attract tourists, business leaders and investors from around the world.
A resort in Manama, Bahrain (Photo: ALL ARAB NEWS)
In light of all of this, Al Zayani encouraged us to consider organizing a major conference for Christian leaders, and I can tell you that we are seriously considering doing so.
Something very special is happening in this region and in this country.
It may be a hidden pearl in the Gulf.
But I suspect many more will soon find out.