The success of a recent regional conference for hospitality leaders appears to have helped boost Bahrain’s ongoing endeavours to promote the kingdom’s tourism credentials ahead of a major international gathering in October.The 53rd Asian Area Congress 2024, staged at the Gulf Hotel Bahrain Convention and Spa in Manama, was organised by Skal International Bahrain – 370, under the patronage of Tourism Minister Fatima Al Sairafi.

The three-day event in May was attended by more than 110 travel experts and businessmen, including Skal International Bahrain – 370 founder and inaugural president Jamil Wafa and current president Mohamed Buzizi, and Skal International president Annette Cardenas, and Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) chief executive Sarah Buheji.“The conference provided an opportunity for those in the tourism and hospitality industries such as hotels, ships, restaurants from Bahrain to interact with some of the top experts,” said Mr Buzizi. “Attendees stayed at the best hotels, ate at some of the best restaurants, and went on a comprehensive tour of the kingdom in order to promote Bahrain as a tourist destination.

“Those who work in the industry in Bahrain connected with experts, built bridges and did some business-to-business activities with people from around Asia.”Formed in 1972, Skal International Bahrain – 370 is part of Skal International, an organisation that promotes global tourism and friendship. Founding members include Mr Wafa and House of Travel chairman Ebrahim Amin, both of whom are still actively involved with the group.Mr Wafa, founder and chairman of Unitag Group, and an aviation and travel pioneer, pushed for Bahrain to join Skal International. He served as president of a club in Lebanon from 1971 to 1972 when he met with Shawki Zayani, whose family owned Delmon Hotel, and the late Fouad Habibi, who was a manager of Middle East Airlines, who asked him to help establish a Skal Club in Bahrain.Using his links and expertise, he managed to get the necessary approvals to form the club. Bahrain then attended the first international Skal congress in Rio de Janeiro (1973), where he presented the Bahrain club along with Information Ministry Under-Secretary Shaikh Isa bin Mohammed Al Khalifa.Today, there are 83 active members in Bahrain, and they meet once a month, usually with a distinguished guest speaker.

The group includes members from Saudi Arabia and Oman.On a global level, Skal International boasts more than 17,000 members from around 480 groups worldwide. It is an affiliated member of the World Tourism Organisation.As it stands, Bahrain has the only active Skal group in the GCC and the Middle East, with previous groups from Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE no longer active.The annual Skal World Congress 2024, which will bring together around 600 participants from around the world, will be held later this year from October 16 to 21 in Izmir, Türkiye.“We are currently negotiating with the BTEA on a strategy for the meeting,” Mr Buzizi said. “Not only do we want to promote Bahrain in front of a larger international audience, we are also working on bringing the congress to the kingdom, hopefully either in 2026 or 2027.“It would be a massive achievement if we can have it held here. It will give us an opportunity to establish business contacts with some of the best in the world.”

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