Challenging Times for Brunei Hotels

Newspaper Brunei Times conducted interviews with two hoteliers based in Brunei about the challenges faced by the hospitality sector in the tiny Sultanate. According to the newspaper, low occupancy rate characterize Brunei hotel sector as tourist arrivals remain relatively limited.

Two hotel managers who are also members of the Brunei Association of Hotels – Abd Rani Siteh GM of the Capital Residence Suites  and Shamsul Bahrin Pehin Hj Ahmad, GM of the Orchid Garden Hotel, talked about the challenges that hoteliers are facing as well as their ideas on improving the country’s tourism sector.

What are the current challenges faced by hotels in Brunei?

  • Abd Rani Siteh, General Manager of The Capital Residence Suites: There is no proper marketing of Brunei. We have lots of interesting places to share to tourists, but we are not doing the proper marketing of promoting Brunei. Kampong Ayer itself is sellable. Soon we will have a new bridge across the Brunei River, that’s the main attraction for tourists to come to Brunei, provided we do the right marketing.
  • Shamsul Bahrin Pehin Hj Ahmad, Orchid Garden Hotel General Manager: The main issue here is just lack of tourists. When this happens, you need to start thinking why there is a lack of tourists. At the moment, there are plenty of hotel rooms but not enough tourists. The government needs to increase promotion of the country.To do this, you need to spend money. It’s hard for us as a single hotel to promote Brunei because we cannot just sell our hotel and ask foreigners to stay in our hotel. The country is the reason why people want to come, not the hotel.

What needs to be done to boost tourist traffic in the country?

  • Abd Rani: First of all, the public needs to be involved. Bruneians need to understand what tourism is all about. Right now, the people who understand tourism are only the hotel players and travel industries such as travel agents, airlines and the tourism department. What about the public? Is the public aware about the importance of tourism to the country? Brunei is known for its harmonies and its greens. This is what we need to promote.

Speaking about the people, the country is very small and people know each other like families. This is something we can also promote outside Brunei. We also need to promote Brunei’s Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) philosophy. Every operator should understand what MIB is all about. If you ask 50 per cent of the younger generation here, do they really know their MIB? That’s just our young generations. How about the foreigners working in Brunei? Do they know? MIB philosophy is not just legislate, it’s our way of life.

  • Shamsul: The government needs to promote, but of course, not just blindly. There are two things to consider when you are doing promotion. One is to promote Brunei to the world, and secondly to promote what is currently in Brunei such as improving the facilities. I believe that is what Brunei is trying to do now, which is to focus on internally. The Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) has plans to focus on Temburong District. But that doesn’t mean they have to stop marketing Brunei outside.

Is Syariah Law affecting the hotel business? 

  • Abd Rani: Syariah is not something that stops tourists from travelling to Brunei. It gives the sultanate some advantages, such as having specific type of visitors that adhere to the law and thus reduce social issues in the country. Right now, we are in control as we can have select people who want to spend here as well as understand Brunei’s culture. We also need the locals to really understand what Syariah is so that they can help educate tourists visiting the country about the law. Syariah compliance is all about how we are welcoming people and how we take care of the people. That’s what we need to explain to them. And we are not talking about the syariah law enforcement. We are talking about how we take care of our guests. There is still a lack of understanding about Syariah compliance here. Most of the people (working) in the travel industry are foreigners and not locals.
  • Shamsul: Of course you lose potential visitors, but all you have to do is work around it. You can educate people about how the law works. The benefit is that tourists who come here will have a peace of mind as they will feel secure. The peacefulness is already here even before the implementation (of Syariah law). I don’t see it as a selling point for hoteliers. We are hotels, we need to fill in our rooms. That’s the main issue here. Syariah is just a small part of it. The bigger picture for tourism and hospitality in Brunei is that we need to promote Brunei better.