After seeing tourist arrivals fall dramatically last year in the wake of the political unrest in the country, Bahrain is hoping that the return of the Formula One race will be a catalyst that will help revive the country's tourism sector.
"Bahrain went through an unprecedented situation in 2011, and that impacted negatively on the tourism sector, but we continued working on our plans last year and we have started overcoming the challenges,' said Nada Ahmed Yaseen, the Assistant Undersecretary for Bahrain's Ministry of Culture.
Bahrain has held a number of successful events so far this year, she noted, including an international air show and concerts featuring Julio Iglesias and Andrea Bocelli, which allowed them to showcase the security and stability in the kingdom.
The return of the Aida Blu cruise liner is also a positive signal that Bahrain's cruise sector is getting back on track, she said.
Up to 70 cruise ships docked in Bahrain every season before the unrest, but only 29 visits took place between November 2010 and February last year. The economic impact of the cancellation was severe because every vessel berthed in Bahrain brings an estimated spend of $274,165 per call, according to Seatrade Middle East.
More importantly, the F1 Grand Prix, which is Bahrain's most famous tourist attraction, is scheduled to be held on April 20-22. The event was cancelled last year, causing millions of dollars of losses to airlines, hotels and other tourism-related businesses.
The 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix, along with Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) events throughout the year, will create more than 3,000 jobs, BIC CEO Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa said recently.
"We are, this time around, hoping to generate around $500m of direct and indirect benefits for the Bahrain economy," he said.
Bahrain's F1 race alone is expected to significantly strengthen the tourism industry, he noted, with hotels already reporting full occupancy rates and Bahrain-based Gulf Air providing more than 50% of incoming flights.
Beyond the Grand Prix, the BIC, which hosts the country's F1 race, has more than 200 events scheduled for this year.
According to Yaseen, changing the world's perception about Bahrain will be a key focus for her this year. She said the ministry will initially concentrate on attracting families from the Gulf, as they are the group most likely to be persuaded that it is safe to return to Bahrain and to appreciate the many benefits of travelling to the kingdom.