Source: Bahrain Tribune

The tremendous interest generated by the upcoming Gulf Air Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix is the best thing that has happened in a long time, according to Bahrain's leading travel agents.

"Happening as it is immediately after the deadly Sars epidemic, the war in Iraq and the global downtrend caused by the infamous September 11 syndrome, this is really great news," said the general manager of Unitag Group, Hisham Al Baradi.

The travel executive, who has been in the aviation and travel industry for decades, being associated with Cathay Pacific for a long time, said the travel industry looks forward to the event.

"Be it hotel bookings, land arrangements, ground handling, sightseeing or other related issues, we've never had it so good. "There's much enthusiasm among the trade, and everyone will walk away happy, however small or big he may be."

Al Baradi, whose Unitag Group also owns World Travel Service and Sunshine Tours, two of the best-known names in the travel and tourism industry in Bahrain, said it is only now that Bahrain has come into its own. "Earlier I've had people sometimes asking me what Bahrain had to offer and, also, where it was; not any more. Bahrain is now known all over, and it has virtually stuck gold with Formula One."

He said the tremendous infrastructure that is coming up all over is driving the enthusiasm. "What's keeping people going is the fact that when F1 is over, there'll be other related events throughout the year, and these'll maintain the impetus. And, in any case, F1 will return in a year."

Abraham John, the general manager of Sunshine Tours, said the growth potential is tremendous. "We're the groundhandling agents for a very large group, and we see tremendous potential. We hope to do very well, and this is the catalyst we were looking for."

He said everyone involved in F1 will benefit. "But when it comes to travel and tour agents, it'll be even better since they'll be involved at every stage."

John said now that everyone knows Bahrain more than ever before, it will benefit the trade in the long run. "People will want to come here long after F1 is over. And by the time we have the first F1 behind us, the next one will already be there. This is great news."

He said they had already started preparing the groundwork for the next race in 2005. "We're looking forward to it, and we wish to ensure that we're better prepared than this time."

Issac Mathew, the general manager at Al Gosaibi Travels, said the chaos caused by Sars and the war in Iraq was, hopefully, history. "While we hope that we don't have to face a similar situation again, we also are looking forward to F1."

He said the only hitch they are facing is the lack of hotel accommodation. "We could've had several hundred more people had there been more hotels."

However, Mathew said, many new properties are coming up. "And this isn't the only time F1 is being held in Bahrain. It'll return every year, and every year will see us better prepared than the last time."

He said business was at an all-time high now. "People are travelling out of Bahrain, and people are coming in. It seems Sars and Iraq are a bygone dilemma already. The boom is here to stay."

The Chairman of the Association of Bahrain Tour and Travel Agents, Mohammed Moosa Al A'Ali, echoing the feelings of the trade, said F1 would spur continuous growth over the years. "F1 will come and go and come again but what'll remain is the infrastructure and facilities. Coupled with it is the name that Bahrain will make, and this will ensure that we all stay busy all year round."

He said F1 has been a great achievement for the country. "This is perhaps the catalyst that we all needed to show our true potential. The travel trade in Bahrain is highly committed, and it's only now that we'll be able to show off that commitment and translate it into a lot of business."

Issue date: January 25, 2004

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