Brunei remains a small player in ASEAN tourism receiving about 0.25 million foreign tourists in a year. Many observers have the impression that little has been done over the last two decades to let Brunei embrace more the idea that tourism is a way to diversify the Sultanate’s economic development.
The Brunei Times published on Monday the interview of Col (Rtd) Hj Zainal Momin, owner of AZ B2N Tour Services. The Brunei native had a rather straight forward talk with the Brunei Times reporter about the evolution of Brunei tourism, its strength and weakness. Some excerpt of the interview conducted by BT journalist Koo Jin Shen.
What are some of the challenges faced by the local tourism industry?
One of Brunei current weakness is certainly its infrastructure. Let’s say that we want to develop a new tourism product and that it is successful. Let’s imagine that people start coming in, from 10,000 to 15,000 a month to 50,000 a month. Well, our infrastructure cannot handle it. Things like hotel rooms, (public) transport (system), there are a lot of things we need to think about that need to be in line if we are to introduce a new product. Restaurants aren’t a problem in Brunei. But accommodation is an issue, there aren’t enough rooms, and even with 10,000 to 15,000 a month we sometimes have issues with that. Can you imagine 50,000?
And there is a lot of negative feedback on transportation. The buses run from six am to six pm. But the tourists, they would like to go out in the evening from around eight to 11pm, and they cannot go back to the hotel unless the hotel provides transport so sometimes they are stranded.
How do you think Brunei should move forward with its tourism development?
First, we should look at what is happening to (the) tourism (industry) now.
Last year, globally, tourism is ahead of many other economic sectors. It is the second largest contributor to the world economy. By 2030, it is predicted that there will be two billion people across the world, travelling, nearly a third of the world’s population. There are trillions of dollars in tourism that benefit countries like the US, China, Japan and Korea. In Brunei, before, we see tourists like, ” well, it would be nice if they come but it is alright if they don’t”. People however can forget that tourism can be a bigger industry than our oil and gas.
Singapore is an example, a lot of tourists go to Singapore and spend money in Singapore. However, we don’t want to become Singapore. If people want to go to a place like Singapore, they would just go there. Instead, we can complement them. Over the last three years, our clients has shared with us that Brunei is a very unique place. We have tourists from Italy, that told us that Brunei is like an island on its own, very safe, quiet and a place you can relax. This is our strength.
Is that strength, leveraging on the nation’s ‘Abode of Peace’ label, something that can be further developed?
Not many people know about what Brunei has to offer. We had some Canadians come over before, they had never heard about Brunei and they were on a stop-over when someone mentioned to them, why not to stay in Brunei? They then decided to spend two days in our country, and once there, they suddenly realise they would need more time to be able to finish everything they wanted to see.
Brunei needs to market these things better, and with our current tourism assets, I believe we can reach tourism numbers about 50,000 a month. But this must be supported by proper infrastructure.
I think tourists will then come back. We already have return visitors because what they can see here is quite different from what they are normally used to. But all this must be supported by proper infrastructure.
(Source: The Brunei Times)