Bad news hit many hotels, restaurants and other tourist outlets in the tiny Middle East kingdom of Bahrain as the parliament unanimously voted March 6 of a blanket ban on public sales of alcohol. Previously, they have already advanced a motion to ban alcohol sales at Bahrain International Airport, including in the duty free shops and on Gulf Air flights.
Under the new proposal, hotel guests would be allowed alcohol only in their rooms while consumption in private homes would continue to be allowed, with suppliers providing home delivery, according to The Gulf News.
Meanwhile, hoteliers and restaurant owners/ operators are scrambling for a way to block the MP’s move giving economic impact as reason for doing away with the ban, which will be brought forward to the Cabinet before it is made into law.
Bahrain has never been this strict before with alcohol. In fact, it is a haven for liberal Saudis who only need to cross the causeway from Dhahran to enjoy this “forbidden fruit.” One travel guide tip given by Manugistics once lightly warned travelers of booze use – during the Muslim’s holy month of Ramadan. It said, “Don’t drink, smoke or eat in public between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. Not only is it illegal, it’s also immoral in the citizens’ view. You can enjoy an alcoholic beverage at other times (as many visitors from Saudi Arabia go to Bahrain to do just that).”
Bahrain is the Saudi’s first entry into the “real” world of fun. This small island off the Saudi Arabian coast, connected by the causeway, is actually an archipelago and a fully independent sovereign state. All of about 231 square miles, it lies on the Persian Gulf and consists of 33 islands, including Bahrain, Muharraq, Umm Nasan, Sitrah, An Nabi Salih and the Hawar Islands.
Its capital Manama is cool, hip and liberal, that Saudi’s and working expats couldn’t even think about how strict it is in the next door neighbor, the kingdom of the Abulaziz’s. Bahrainis are predominantly Muslim and are a mixture of Arabic with Persian origin, including Indian and Pakistani minorities. The expatriate community that dominates the island scene is largely British. It is low, flat and sandy with oases supporting desert flora and fauna such as camels and donkeys. Vegetable cultivation is rife. There were also plenty of pearls attracting waves of Portuguese and Persians who moved in during the 16th and 17th centuries respectively. In 1820, they signed a friendship treaty with Britain making Bahrain into a protectorate or protected sheikhdom in 1862. In 1971, Bahrain became a sovereign state to which Iran received old claim in 1979.
Oil made Bahrain what it is today. Oil is the grandest in the scale of domestic products. Rich in oil, production, refining and export of oil since its discovery in 1932 make the country the original Gulf oil state.
On the tourism front, oil-blessed Bahrain also struck ‘black gold’ with the men from ‘dry’, non-alcoholic countries. It became a huge hit because of proximity to the fun-hungry Saudis across the Gulf waters and to some extent, the American GIs and European workers in the kingdom, without whom Bahrain would not have been as bustling and pulsating at night. (After all, Saudi is the largest tourist generating market for outbound in the region, averaging 3 M for Bahrain and totaling over 5 M trips on an average year for the entire region. Saudi Arabia has the largest spend of all Middle East nations on outbound).
Saudis only need to cross the King Fahd Causeway from Dammam, Al Kobbar, Dhahran in the Eastern Provinces of Saudi to get to the island. Since the opening of this bridge, Bahrain has seen a constant flow of Saudi traffic contributing over 75 percent off all tourist nights. And over the weekend, they stay for 1-2 nights for R&R in the relatively free environment of Bahrain.
So now, while the Bahrainis wait with baited breath for the result of the blanket ban on alcohol, the Saudis can look forward to the opening of more outlets that will facilitate entertainment. Following a latest hotel survey by Proleads, Bahrain will see a rise in resort inventory with five additional hotels – one to be delivered in 2009 and four in 2010.
For the tiny state of Bahrain, which is the number one tourism choice and the most important destination for the richer Saudi tourists and handsomely-rewarded expat workers, the fun can still go on despite being less alcohol-free in certain public places.