Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chaos in Bahrain's economy slows

.- In the marble lobby of one of the most prestigious hotels in Bahrain, smartly dressed staff and friendly smiles outnumber the few guests. Cars parked outside Saudi normally absent. Bahrain's economy, once a quiet and friendly island for business at the end of the conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has been paralyzed by riots that have involved the armies and made to flee to neighboring and foreign investors.

The Gulf Hotel has closed some of their apartments and reduced the opening hours of the restaurant, while some of his staff have taken voluntary leave. "Our occupancy rate has fallen around 90 percent to between 25 and 30 percent, so that our business has seriously affected all sectors," he told Reuters Aqeel Raees, executive director of the hotel in an interview.

"Everyone in Bahrain has been hit (...) It will take time for the business recovers, because all the activities, conferences, exhibitions and planned meetings have been postponed or canceled," said Raees. The conflict has ruled Bahrain since the protesters took to the streets in February, camping monument in the rotunda of the Pearl, then destroyed by the Government in a bid to halt the revolt.

In late March blocked the road to the district, after which the government called the Arab Gulf and troops launched an offensive that drove the protesters from the streets. After several days closed, the four major commercial centers in Bahrain and the shops of the city began to reopen, but the activity is low.

"The conflict has affected not only us but the entire economy," said Ahmed Sanad, head of the association of hotels and restaurants. "Our occupancy rate has dropped from almost 100 percent to 30 percent. We can not do anything (...) People want one thing, the Government and business want another (...) is caught in the middle generating losses, "said Sanad.

"If we all pull in a different direction we will all suffer. We all need to compromise or lose all," added the director. The hotel industry in Bahrain, which depends on a regular schedule of business conferences to keep the rooms occupied, has been severely beaten. From February to May is peak season in the Gulf Arab region, where high summer temperatures become too hot for outdoor activities.

A festival scheduled for this month was canceled, and Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa in February decided to postpone the season opening Grand Prix of Formula One, which attracts over 40,000 visitors a year and was scheduled for March. This delay had repercussions throughout the economy.

Sitting on the terrace at Coral Beach Club, with yachts moored at the pier behind him, general manager Chadi Sleiman said the restaurant could not stay open much longer, after the activity fell by more than 70 percent and events being canceled Formula One "performed three parties for the Formula One 4,000 people came to each one (last season).

These types of holidays are booked in advance, so we already pay for them," said Sleiman. One Monday at noon, there were two or three tables occupied. The buffet was disarmed by the lack of demand. Typically, Sleiman serve lunch for 80 to 100 clients. Sites such as Coral Beach depend on foreign visitors for more than half of its business, but that source has now been exhausted.

The arrival of tourists from Saudi Arabia, 35 thousand of which every weekend enjoying the nightlife in Bahrain liberal and spend their money in shopping malls and cinemas in Manama, has declined in recent weeks. Most Western countries urged their citizens to leave the country. The flights have left full of Bahrain as foreigners, who make up more than half of the 1.2 million people evacuated their families.

"Most people already left. All the foreigners are gone. Normally, we are always busy. Now, no one is busy. We are all sitting in the parking lot, "said a taxi driver, who sent his family to India after 26 years in Bahrain. Bahrain is ranked as the Gulf financial center in the 1980's, when banks catering to the rich Beirut left the region due to civil war.

The financial sector accounts for about one quarter of gross domestic product and is an important actor in the government's effort to create jobs and diversify the oil. In addition to Kuala Lumpur, has positioned Manama as an important center of industry of Islamic finance to move a trillion dollars.

But the conflicts have led to Fitch and Standard & Poor's lower their credit rating sovereign small state that was once the financial capital of the Gulf. The Bahraini dinar fell to a historic low in the futures market in late March and the central bank was forced to move to an alternate location.

Some banks closed their branches short by fears about the safety of its staff. Mikne Akram, a businessman Lebanon has 77 offices in the Arab world but with headquarters in Bahrain, said the chaos in the Gulf had surprised him very much. His public relations firm operating throughout the Arab world and was the first to be affected by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

"Everything we do in Bahrain has been hit and Bahrain has affected the rest of the Gulf. We have offices in Saudi Arabia, UAE (...) We care about our staff. In my company we have four thousand employees and that's a big responsibility "said Mikne. "I'm afraid the situation (...) If you continue to destroy an economy that will be very difficult to rebuild," added the businessman.

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