A shot in the arm for Bahrain businesses

Retailers have been waiting with bated breath for the gradual resumption of normal life

A vendor sells protective face masks and clothes, following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Manama, Bahrain, March 26, 2020.

A vendor sells protective face masks and clothes, following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Manama, Bahrain, March 26, 2020.

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Green shoots are in the offing for Bahrain’s retail sector as Saudi visitors make a return to the kingdom on Monday after more than a year.

Saudis have largely been barred from travel since March 2020, when all travel in and out of the country was first restricted as Covid-19 began spreading worldwide.

Operators of leading shopping malls, hypermarkets and retail chains see the return of Saudis as a shot in the arm sparking off a resurgence in the local economy.


“Visitors across the causeway are a key support base for Bahrain’s economy... The opening of the causeway will allow some of those people to come back with certain conditions of course and going forward we hope we will attract more and more people back to their shopping experience that we had before Covid-19,” said Bahrain World Trade Centre and Moda Mall deputy general manager Chris Gibson.

He is hoping that there will be more relaxation in regulations and restrictions going forward.

“I’m a great believer that the ‘green shield’ will play a major part in the future for everyone’s safety,” he said.

“We have a great location, Bahrain is a destination for a number of countries in the Middle East and we’ve got plans for lots of things,” he added.

Starting from the first day of Eid Al Fitr, Bahrain’s green ‘Covid-19 Vaccinated’ shield gives holders access to cinemas, spas, indoor dining services, gymnasiums, indoor swimming pools, indoor children’s play centres, indoor events and conference halls, and fan attendance at sporting events.

“We’re thrilled to be reopening our doors and welcoming back our guests this holiday weekend so we can start creating great moments together again,” said Mohamad Halloum, Bahrain regional manager for Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas and Majid Al Futtaim Leisure and Entertainment.

Retailers have been waiting with bated breath for the gradual resumption of normal life, as evident from a CBRE survey last year, which found 94 per cent of respondents hit by loss of sales during the Covid-19 pandemic, and 81pc saying they were concerned about meeting financial obligations.

Bahrain’s economy is estimated to have contracted by 5.8pc last year, as per government data.

Fitch Ratings has forecast real household spending in Bahrain to recover in 2021, growing by 3.9pc year-on-year, after the Covid-19 pandemic led to a 4pc contraction in consumer spending in 2020.

The US-based firm said despite the reintroduction of stricter measures in February this year, in response to increasing Covid-19 infection rates and the transmission of a new variant of the virus, government stimulus measures and higher oil prices will support household spending.

Fitch’s belief that the recovery in consumer spending will be robust in the second-half of 2021, is also based on the fact that Bahrain began inoculating its population in December 2020.

Seef Properties’ senior manager for property management Mohammed Al Qaed has called the reopening of the causeway “a delightful matter that would have a positive impact on different sectors.

“The causeway, since its establishment in 1986, has played a key role in boosting the national economy of both kingdoms. We are enthusiastically looking forward to receiving our customers from Saudi Arabia once again, and we have taken the necessary steps to ensure them a satisfactory and safe experience,” he added.

Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry first vice-chairman Khalid Najibi, who is also board member of the King Fahad Causeway Authority, said last week that the national economy is expected to get a boost of $2.9 billion, when Saudis make a return to the country.

Basing his expectation on average tourist spending in 2019, Mr Najibi said thousands of visitors from Saudi Arabia are seen streaming in.

Bahrain received more than 12 million tourists in 2019, 88 per cent of them Saudis, most of whom came via the causeway.

According to data from the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), average daily spend of BD80 per visitor was recorded that year.


The average tourist stay during 2019 at 2.85 nights was 16.8pc higher than the previous year.

Mr Najibi said nearly 75,000 tourists entered Bahrain daily via the King Fahad Causeway in 2019.

From Monday, Gulf Air started offering complimentary Covid-19 travel insurance coverage on all flight bookings till November 10, which eases the burden on Saudis under-18, who are required to buy insurance before travelling abroad.

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