(MENAFN - Arab News) Leading members of the travel, tourism and hospitality industry in Bahrain have acknowledged the key role Gulf tourists have played in sustaining the neighboring nation's economy during a critical phase.
"We want to extend our special thanks to citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council states for continuing to visit us and for actively supporting us as we grappled with the negative publicity in the world media," said Isa Hassani, head of tourism marketing at the Ministry of Culture. "We have seen an upswing in tourist arrivals."
Hassani was among a select group of topnotch travel and tourism industry leaders taking part in a forum organized by SKAL International Bahrain which turned 40 this year.
"Bahrain is not only safe, but it is pulsating with cultural activity," said SKAL Bahrain President Mohamed Buzizi in his opening remarks. "Nothing has changed, and Bahrain and Bahrainis know no other way but to make our guests comfortable."
Jamil Wafa, a widely respected businessman and Unitag Group founder and executive chairman, agreed with Buzizi. He blamed the world media for blowing things out of proportion.
"Yes, there have been skirmishes, but the media have gone wild with their reports," he said. "Yes, this is a safe place, and if it weren't, we wouldn't be here."
Wafa blamed embassies of European nations for creating an atmosphere of fear with their travel advisories. "They are the real culprits " there is no need for them to issue these circulars advising their citizens not to venture out at evening time; all this fits neatly into the agenda of the troublemakers and a sensational media," he said.
William A. Torresala, chief operating officer at Hala bint Mubarak Al-Suwaiket Trading Est., said there is no place like Bahrain in the world.
"I have been to various places and cities around the world, and I can say with personal experience that Bahrain is among the safest places," he said. "The negative publicity unleashed in the world media has led to people asking how things are in Bahrain these days."
Daniel M. Naoumovitch, chief executive officer, Sabre Travel Network, was forthright in his assessment. "I travel extensively in the region but I and my wife find Bahrain the best," he said. "This is the reason why we call Bahrain home, but unfortunately this is not what the outside world is hearing."
Naoumovitch called for setting up a fund to conduct a sustained public relations exercise to promote and sell Bahrain. "We are ready to contribute to this fund because we own this brand and it is our duty to promote it," he said.
Abdullah M. Abo Khamseen, director and executive general manager at Kanoo Travel, acknowledged the generosity and large-heartedness of Bahrainis.
"Bahrain is like a second home to all Saudis," he said. "We will continue to come here, and as the speakers here have pointed out, the traffic across
the King Fahd Causeway has only increased."
Abo Khamseen called for concerted efforts on both sides in streamlining the traffic at the 25 km causeway that links Alkhobar with Manama. "With all
the technology at our disposal, we need to find ways to minimize the waiting time at the causeway."
Saeed Al-Hajri, general manager of Qatar's Ali Bin Ali Travel Bureau, said he was going back with good memories. "The message that I am taking from this visit to Bahrain is that it is a safe country," he said. "I will tell my people not to believe in those stories that they hear in the international media; they are all lies." Buzizi thanked the guests from GCC countries and honored them at SKAL Bahrain's colorful 40th anniversary celebrations. "We value our guests, and this is what SKAL is all about," he said. "It is a professional organization of industry leaders dedicated to the promotion of global tourism and friendship."