Bahrain International • a small airport with big ambitions
Bahrain International is typical of many Middle Eastern airports. It serves a fast-growing, oil-rich country, in this case the island Kingdom of Bahrain, as well as a dynamic, flourishing low-cost carrier in the shape of Bahrain Air. Only launched in February 2008, the airline already flies to 29 destinations across the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.Inevitably, given these hothouse conditions, this medium-sized airport, (which currently handles fewer than 7m passengers a year), has ambitious plans to expand as fast it can. To that end, in October this year Bahrain airport announced a $680 million, 30-year master plan, which will see passenger capacity reach 27 million by 2038.
Work has already begun on realising this grand vision. Two new terminals are set to open • Terminal 1 by 2012, and Terminal 1A a year later (the existing terminal building will then be demolished by 2014). The new airport will boast plenty of luxury features: top-class hotels, a swimming pool, and of course, a greatly expanded shopping mall packed full of designer boutiques.
Exciting stuff, but what’s the shopping like at present, I hear you ask? Not half bad, actually. Bahrain Duty Free is a well-established and professional retail operation, run for the past 18 years by Irish airport duty-free retailer Aer Rianta International (ARI). Now the Irish have something of a reputation to live up to when it comes to duty-free shopping, having practically invented it back at Shannon airport in the late 1940s, but the ARI team have certainly not disgraced themselves at this Persian outpost.
In fact, Bahrain Duty Free is a multi-award-winning outfit with good customer service, well-known luxury brands, and a useful online, pre-order service, which travellers can access through the retailer’s recently revamped website, www.bdutyfree.com. The company boasts a loyalty card programme, and hosts regular, high-value promotions and raffles, which offer much better odds for participants than most national lotteries.
Tickets for these raffles can be bought online and there is no limit to how many can be bought by a single person. Typical prizes tend to fall into the boys’ toys category and include sports cars, motorbikes, and jet skis, but watches and gold have occasionally featured too. Ticket prices range from under $30 to around $150.Bahrain has the reputation of being one of the most tolerant and liberal of Gulf states, but in recent years political pressure has increased on Bahrain airport to ban sales of duty-free alcohol in both the shops and the bars after complaints by airport workers of rowdy passenger behaviour. The authorities have so far resisted, however, and travellers will find a decent selection of spirits, majoring on blended Scotch whisky brands such as Johnnie Walker Label ($35.44), Chivas Regal 12 Year Old ($35.44) and William Grant’s ($17.86) popular with Indian ex-pat workers.
The selection of super-premium vodkas is also better than average. We like the eminently giftable U’Luvka vodka Gift Pack with its cool, curvy bottle and accompanying legless glasses ($83.24). Cocktail enthusiasts will also find hip brands such as Grey Goose, Ketel One and Cîroc.
Smokers will discover cigarette and cigar prices to be very much to their liking. For example, a carton of 200 Marlboro Lights costs just $15.93, while a carton of 1,000 Benson & Hedges is priced at only $63.74. The personal allowance if you are travelling into Bahrain is 400 cigarettes. For a complete list of your personal duty free allowances when visiting Bahrain see our guide: Bahrain Duty Free Allowances
The electronics offer at Bahrain Duty Free is also very good, stocking a great range of MP3 players, laptops, digital cameras and mobile phones from brands such as Sony, Nokia, Olympus, Canon and Apple. Our advice though is to do some checking at stores downtown if you are staying in Bahrain for any length of time, as domestic prices on electronics are very competitive with the airport.All the latest international fragrance brands are present, as you’d expect from such a large duty-free operation. Recent fragrance launches include Dolce & Gabanna L’Imperatrice ($57.42 for 100ml edt), Boss Orange Woman ($66.21 for 75ml edt), Givenchy Play Intense ($74.18 for 11ml edt) and CK in 2U Heat ($51.65 for 100ml edt).
The range of fashion and accessories is equally impressive if rather pricey • expect to find belts, socks, shawls, bags, totes, wallets and handbags from the likes of MCM, Escada, Ferragamo, Boss, Dunhill and Guess. High-end watch brands stocked include Tag Heuer, Raymond Weil, Cartier and Rado. For local souvenirs and Arab handicrafts, head for the Bahrain & Arab Tourist Gift Court located after immigration near gate 15.Unfortunately, not everything about Bahrain airport is as good as the shopping. While customer service is friendly and efficient and immigration and baggage reclaim generally quick, passengers complain about the cleanliness of the toilets and the lack of things to do other than shop. So if you have a few hours to wait, and don’t have access to one of the premium lounges, the Dilmun Lounge located opposite Gate 16 (Level 3) is recommended.
For a fee of $41 passengers can access a wide range of services including a buffet and bar service, shower facilities, wi-fi, sleeper seats and a family room with games and entertainment. You can stay a maximum of four hours and up to two children (under the age four) can go in free.
The airport has made recent efforts to improve the limited food offer • you can now find Costa Coffee outlets dotted across the airport, for example. There is also a pizzeria (Papa John’s Pizzeria) and a burger and ice cream joint (DQ Grill & Chill) in the main terminal building, while the revamped Sky Restaurant and Sky Bar on the fourth floor offers a mixed international and Arabic menu, and as the name suggests, great views of aircraft taking off and landing.One last thing worth noting. Bahrain’s Formula One (F1) Grand Prix takes place every April. The airport really gets into the spirit of the big occasion, introducing a number of F1-themed events and promotions, which are well worth checking out.
And for other Tax Free Travel guides to the Gulf ….