Bahrain's King eager to attract Jewish tourism with new plan

The North American-Jewish Tourism Initiative has brought together entities from rabbis to hotels and tourism authorities to tap into a previously inaccessible market.

BAHRAIN IS preparing to host an event devoted to the US peace plan. (photo credit: REUTERS)
BAHRAIN IS preparing to host an event devoted to the US peace plan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
MANAMA - Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has mandated a new plan to attract Jewish tourists to the small Gulf state following the recent Abraham Accords.
The North American-Jewish Tourism Initiative has brought together rabbis, hotels and tourism authorities to tap into a previously inaccessible market.
“As a center of peaceful coexistence with a rich history, heritage and tourism landscape, this tourism initiative will provide a memorable experience to all who visit and will open new horizons for Jewish tourists looking for a new and exciting destination,” Bahraini Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism Zayed R. Alzayani said.
According to Jehad Amin, chairman of the Best of Bahrain tourism management company, new direct routes to the US in 2021 and Tel Aviv in January on Bahrain’s national carrier Gulf Air will help efforts. Liaising with Da’at Travel in the US, which caters to religious Jewish travelers, there are many reasons to attract tourists to the tiny archipelago, home to the only indigenous Jewish population in the Persian Gulf, he said.
“With 25% of visitors to Israel mostly Jewish Americans, what we’re also trying to do is offer an extension to that trip to Israel,” Amin said.
Currently, American tourists in Bahrain are limited, he said, and the biggest market is from the UK. But thanks to the Abraham Accords bringing more attention to the kingdom, which has a population of 1.6 million people, he hopes this will soon change.
For travelers hungry for history and culture, Amin says Bahrain is a unique destination compared with many other expatriate-dominant Gulf states.
“Contrary to other countries in the region, visitors can connect with locals much more easily, for example, the Bahraini taxi driver, concierge and shopkeeper,” he said. “People don’t know how much Bahrain has to offer in terms of culture and history.”
Jeremy Canivet, director of sales and marketing at Ritz-Carlton Bahrain, the country’s first hotel to offer kosher travel options, said the initiative has opened an opportunity for Bahrain to be promoted as a unique destination.
“We have seen the demand grow since the signing of the Abraham Accords,” he said. “Although not large at the moment, we feel that the demand will certainly increase after the recent announcements coming from Gulf Air and El Al regarding flight connectivity beginning in January 2021.”
Most interest so far has been from Jewish travelers in Israel, North America and Europe who are eager to visit the kingdom, home to 33 islands, for business and leisure. Next on the agenda for the Ritz-Carlton is to cater weddings and vacations programs, Canivet said.
There is much to attract tourists to the lesser-known destination, he said, adding: “Bahrain is a smaller island but prides itself on rich history and beauty.”
“The Kingdom of Bahrain’s forward-thinking economic and investment strategies have allowed an impressive development of the island while keeping the culture alive” Canivet said. “You can see iconic buildings side by side with Bahraini heritage sites, traditional souks and art venues.”
BY THE time travel eases due to the pandemic, the aim is to have a greater range of hotels and restaurants offering kosher food, aside from the five-star luxury of the Ritz-Carlton, which is beyond the budget of many travelers, Amin said.
“Right now it’s a slight limitation, but we hope this will improve over the next three to six months,” he said. “Other hotels and restaurants are working on developing their kosher kitchens, and we hope that will help us in this regard.”
Ebrahim Nonoo, head of the Jewish community, is optimistic about the plans.
“There has been tremendous interest from Jewish business people and tourists in coming to visit us and establish businesses here,” he said. “This will lead to further growth in our community, and it’s a very exciting time for us.”
So far, the community has received inquiries about spending Pessah in Bahrain, prayer services and other elements related to Jewish life in the Gulf country, Nonoo said.
“With more Jewish tourists visiting Bahrain, we anticipate our community growing,” he said. The community has about 50 members.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, has been consulting on the initiative. “During a meeting with His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, he asked me to spearhead an initiative to introduce the Kingdom of Bahrain as a destination to the North American Jewish community,” said Schneier. “We’re bringing together the leading travel companies in order to create customizable Jewish tourism experiences.”