(MENAFN - Arab News) Bahrain's hospitality industry is reeling amid the ongoing protests that have remained peaceful but brought certain sectors of the economy almost to a halt.
Hotels and shopping malls are largely empty as tourists, mainly from neighboring states such as Saudi Arabia, have all but disappeared.
Both luxury and the more economical hotels have asked workers to take voluntary, unpaid furloughs until conditions improve.
The hospitality industry generates sizable revenues in Bahrain and employs thousands of expatriates from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines.
"Everything has come to a standstill," said Reda Gamal, the Egyptian front-office manager at the three-star Al-Jazira Hotel in Manama.
"We had only three guests last weekend," he pointed out.
"Compare this with 40 guests that used to come to us every Thursday and Friday before these protests brought everything to naught."
Gamal said the hotel owner had asked staff to take unpaid leave.
"We are upset, but we can understand his position. How can he pay us, if he is not making money?"
Al-Jazira is not the only one hotel hit by the crisis. Hotels near the Gold Souk are just holding on.
"Sending the staff home cannot be a permanent solution. We are hoping that these protests would end soon. Once the tourists start coming in, it will be business as usual. Until such time, there is no hope," said Tariq Bukhamsin, who owns three medium-sized hotels and a number of grocery stores.
Despite the relative calm throughout the country, Bukhamsin said the hotel rooms might remain vacant as long as protesters continued to occupy the Pearl Roundabout.
"How do these images of protesters being transmitted to the outside world help bring in tourists?" he asked.
"People visit Bahrain to enjoy peaceful weekends, and if they hear that not everything is all right they will not come - and they are not coming."
It is not just the hotels. Even shops at major malls complain that business has gone bust.
"I am waiting for customers endlessly," said Abdul Shukoor, an Indian national who runs a jewelry outlet in the popular Gold City souk.
"I am trying to sell all my stuff at dirt-cheap prices. I hope this is resolved soon."
Bahrain Tourism Company CEO and Five Star Hotels executive committee Chairman Abdul Nabi Daylami said occupancy rates for March, forecast to stand between 75 and 80 percent, now hovered between 20 percent and 35 percent.
Daylami, quoted by a local newspaper, also said that the financial losses were still being calculated.
While playing down possibilities of large-scale job losses, he said hotels were exploring ways to reduce costs and remarket themselves to attract business.
"We are the most affected sector because there has been a negative impact on tourism," he said.
"We are working on contingency plans and have already started to look at how to reduce costs that will not affect services."
Although tourism has taken a hit, there are still strong indicators that the international community has trust in the Bahrain market and is interested in doing business here, he said.
"The trust of the economy hasn't changed in my experience with personal contacts, and they know these circumstances will reach an end soon," he said.
"Let's pray we arrive at a solution for all Bahrainis, and that's why it is time to start the national dialogue," said Afnan Al-Zayani of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"The message from the Pearl Roundabout has reached loud and clear. We must now move to the next stage, and if we don't, the businesses are likely to be affected more."