Despite stories of ongoing unrest within the country, organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix are hoping for a good turnout at this month's race.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has been the scene of protests and demonstrations since 2011, with Shiite Muslim groups demanding political and social reforms inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings seen in neighbouring countries. As recently as this week, security forces used stun grenades and teargas to disperse anti-government protestors in the town of Malkiya, whilst demonstrators voicing their opposition to the continued detention of 'political prisoners' - and highlighting the F1 race as a symbol of the divisions within the country – were met with similar action in the capital Manama last Friday.
In spite of warnings being issued to F1 fans travelling to Bahrain, race organisers claim that tickets to the grand prix are selling well with just over a fortnight remaining before round four of the season.
"This year's on track action is proving to be just as spectacular as Bahrain's 2012 Grand Prix, when the race for victory was played out by Red Bull's [Sebastian] Vettel and the Lotus of 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen, whose strategy only just failed to beat the three-time champion at the finish," a statement from Bahrain International Circuit noted, "In 2013, the first two races of the year have seen Raikkonen take victory in Australia and Vettel claim the win in Malaysia, but with the rest of the field - including Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes - all threatening to win in Bahrain, the scene is set for another fantastic sporting spectacle."
While the circuit confirms that seats are still available in each of its grandstands, local hotels are reported to be slashing prices in a bid to drum up trade for the grand prix weekend.
According to the Gulf Daily News
, four-star hotels have slashed room rates by nearly 50 per cent, and were 'sprucing up their facilities'.
“While many hotels had not yet received bookings, they were hoping to get some immediately after the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, which starts next weekend,” Bahrain Four Stars Hotel Committee chairman Hameed Al Halwachi commented, “Unlike last year, when we had a lot of last-minute bookings, this year it is expected to be more organised. We have no bookings yet but these will pick up soon."
Al Halwachi conceded that as 'most visitors are from the region', very few were expected to stay overnight, but insisted that 'Bahrain has a lot to offer for its regional and international guests and we will attempt to make sure we do our bit in promoting those attractions'.
The unrest, he admitted, had been a serious problem for the tourist trade, and the F1 weekend remained one of the highpoints for the local hotels.