With the upcoming opening of direct flights between Bahrain and China, a new chapter in tourism is expected to unfold. The launch of Gulf Air’s routes to Shanghai and Guangzhou in January 2024 marks a strategic move by the island nation, aiming to tap into the vast potential of the Chinese tourism market, writes Avinash Saxena.

China accounts for the world’s largest outbound tourism market, with millions of travellers seeking international experiences each year.

Excited at the prospect of welcoming a new wave of visitors, Maryam Toorani, Director of Tourism Marketing and Promotions at the Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), said: “From January 2024, the vibrant island kingdom will be just a hop, skip, and a jump away for Chinese travellers seeking a unique blend of cultural richness, modern luxury, and breathtaking landscapes.”

Speaking during a panel discussion organised by the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in partnership with TTN at Charthouse Residences, Bahrain Harbour, Toorani was emphatic in saying, “China represents a key demographic for Bahrain’s tourism sector.”

She added: “With their growing disposable income and desire for unique travel experiences, Chinese tourists are a perfect fit for the diverse offerings of our island nation.”

“We’ve been actively promoting Bahrain in China through targeted marketing campaigns and industry partnerships, and the direct flights will further amplify our efforts.”

ATM was in the kingdom to promote the eponymous travel and tourism event organised annually in Dubai by Reed Exhibitions.

Adding to the BTEA official’s comments, her fellow panellist Rashid Abdulrahman AlGaoud, Senior Manager Sales – Network at Gulf Air, said: “The direct flights are a game-changer.”

He elaborated: “By eliminating layovers and reducing travel time, we’re making Bahrain an even more attractive destination for Chinese travellers, opening doors to cultural immersion, adventure, and relaxation.”

The excitement extends beyond airlines and tourism boards. Jinjiang Travel Co. Ltd., a leading Chinese travel operator, sees immense potential in the Bahrain-China connection.

Yates Fei, Vice President, shares their perspective: “Bahrain presents a unique and exciting destination for Chinese tourists. Its blend of history, culture, and modern amenities, along with its proximity to popular destinations like Dubai, makes it an ideal stopover or extended vacation spot. We’re already seeing a strong interest from our clients, and we’re confident that the direct flights will further fuel this demand.”

On his maiden visit to Bahrain, Fei was impressed with the kingdom’s welcoming atmosphere, diverse attractions, and strategic location and feels the country is poised to become a favourite destination for Chinese tourists.

“The rich cultural tapestry, historical sites, and vibrant leisure activities cater perfectly to the preferences of the modern Chinese traveller.”

A big selling point is the Bahrain International Circuit, billed as the home of motorsports in the Middle East, which was the first in the region to host a Formula One Grand Prix race back in 2004.

The circuit is set to celebrate its 20th anniversary as the opening round of the 2024 season and its first-ever Saturday night race on March 2, making for an all-new spectacle for F1 fans.

Fans will be able to enjoy plenty of racing action with the weekend’s international support series line-up, along with loads of off-track attractions and all-day entertainment for the whole family.

Bahrain’s Pearling Path is a vibrant trail showcasing the architecture and infrastructure that supported the pearling industry, from the imposing Qal’at Bu Mahir fort (once a vital lookout against pirates) to the wind towers of traditional houses.

“Imagine diving into cool, turquoise waters, sunlight filtering through, and unearthing a luminous oyster, revealing a perfect, shimmering pearl. This was the lifeblood of Bahrain for centuries,” Toorani said.

Bahrain’s newest and most exciting live entertainment destination, the Al Dana Amphitheatre seats 10,000.

Its horseshoe-shaped auditorium, reminiscent of ancient Greek theatres, is flanked by colonnades offering stunning panoramic views. Beneath the starlit sky, the amphitheatre comes alive with concerts, plays, and cultural events.

The venue’s star-studded calendar for 2024 kicks off with Ed Sheeran’s +-=÷x Tour, followed by OneRepublic, Maroon 5, André Rieu with stand-up comedy superstars Trevor Noah and Kevin Hart performing over the F1 weekend.

Bahrain’s strategy goes beyond simple connectivity. The BTEA is tailoring experiences to resonate with Chinese preferences. This includes Mandarin-speaking guides, culturally relevant cuisine options, and partnerships with Chinese travel platforms for targeted marketing.


Toorani highlighted their efforts: “We’re creating immersive tour packages focusing on heritage sites like the Dilmun Burial Mounds and Qalat al-Bahrain Fort, alongside thrilling water sports, and luxurious spa experiences. We’re also showcasing our vibrant cultural scene, including traditional pearl diving demonstrations and art exhibitions.”

To address the challenge of limited awareness of Bahrain in the Chinese market, the BTEA is constantly working on increasing brand visibility through targeted marketing and promotional campaigns.

The authority is launching roadshows in major Chinese cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou to showcase Bahrain’s diverse attractions, including cultural heritage, adventure activities, and family-friendly destinations.

A 360-degree marketing campaign targeting both consumers and key players like tour operators is being implemented across digital platforms and outdoor media, she added.

Popular Chinese social media platforms like Weibo and WeChat will also be engaged in raising awareness and building interest in Bahrain among Chinese audiences.

The authority also plans to participate in major tourism exhibitions and trade shows in China to connect with potential travellers and industry partners. Building partnerships with Chinese cultural institutions and media outlets to organise cultural exchange programmes and events, promoting mutual understanding and highlighting the unique aspects of Bahraini culture is also on the cards.

“We will work with Chinese influencers and travel bloggers to create engaging content featuring their experiences in Bahrain, influencing potential travellers through authentic firsthand accounts,” she added.

Recognising the growing segment of Chinese family travellers, BTEA is promoting Bahrain’s family-friendly attractions and activities, such as theme parks, museums, and water parks.

To cater to the increasing interest in luxury travel, the authority is highlighting Bahrain’s luxury hotels, resorts, and shopping experiences to attract high-spending Chinese tourists, explained Toorani.


Recognising the seasonality of tourism in Bahrain, BTEA is developing strategies to attract Chinese tourists during the off-season months, such as through offering attractive deals and highlighting indoor attractions.

Beyond leisure, Bahrain aims to attract business travellers and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) groups.

Boasting the Middle East’s largest exhibition space of 10 versatile halls spanning 95,000 square metres, Exhibition World Bahrain has adaptable design enabling it to cater to all from mega-conventions to intimate gatherings.

Its state-of-the-art facilities include a 4,000-seat auditorium, 95 meeting rooms, and a VIP Majlis. Modern architecture with Arabic motifs creates a striking backdrop, while its convenient location near the Bahrain International Circuit adds to its allure.

AlGaoud pointed out, “Bahrain’s established business hub status and world-class conference facilities, coupled with the ease of access via direct flights, make it a compelling proposition for Chinese companies and event organisers.”

Fei agreed, saying, “For the MICE segment, Bahrain’s strategic location between Europe and Asia, combined with its modern infrastructure and tax incentives, presents a unique opportunity for Chinese businesses.”

According to him, destination management companies (DMCs), in particular, play a crucial role in delivering exceptional on-the-ground experiences that leave a lasting positive impression on Chinese tourists.

“Providing Mandarin-speaking tour guides, menus, and signage in popular tourist destinations to cater to the needs of Chinese visitors and improve their experience will be great,” Fei added, who is developing online resources and information in Mandarin to make it easier for potential Chinese tourists to research and plan their trips to Bahrain.

Bahrain is undergoing infrastructure and service improvements to ensure a seamless experience for Chinese visitors. This includes streamlining visa processes, implementing Chinese payment options, and training hospitality staff.

“We’re confident that our convenient, luxurious, and culturally sensitive service will resonate with Chinese travellers, offering them a comfortable and enjoyable journey to Bahrain,” Toorani signed off.

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