Brunei remains ASEAN smaller tourism player with total tourist air arrivals around 250,000 per year. For a long time, the Borneo-located Sultanate relied mostly on its primary resources -oil and gas. But fluctuation in prices of those commodities in recent years accompanied by a sharp decline from 2014 and 2016 of the average oil price can be seen as a blessing in disguise for the small country. “Oil price collapse can be seen as a blessing in disguise as Brunei suddenly rediscovered that tourism is also an important part of the country’s economy. The government is now extremely committed to grow the travel industry here”, said during ATF Salinah Salleh, Tourism Office Marketing and Promotion for Brunei Tourism.
In 2015, Brunei welcomed 254,000 tourists (cruise and air) with another 3.81 million being visitors by land. For the first nine months of 2016, Brunei registered 163,023 arrivals per air, 25,055 by cruise and 2.93 million by land borders. “International air arrivals grow on average by 2% to 3% per annum”, said Salinah Salleh.
Brunei has high hopes to see tourism turning into a major economic activity in the years to come but the government will need to reconsider a rather conservative development policy. Some favourable steps have been taken to provide visa on arrivals to more countries. “Our revamped website provides all the information necessary to obtain the visa and we believe it would help to grow long-haul markets”, explained Brunei Tourism officer. Over 60 countries are allowed to come to Brunei with visa on arrivals with most long-haul markets now benefiting of a 90-day visa. Chinese travellers are also entitled to get a 14-day visa on arrival if handled by a travel company.
Efforts should however be done to facilitate air access to Brunei. Last year, charter flights were organized from Zhengzhou in China and Seoul to Bandar Seri Begawan; this year a series of charter will link Brunei capital city to Xi’an. However, the biggest boost to the destination would come from low cost airlines. Brunei is so far only linked by AirAsia to Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu while Cebu Pacific offers a non-stop frequency to Manila. “We at tourism acknowledge that more low cost flights could be a good tool to attract more visitors. However we are not in charge of the aviation policy that remains in the hand of Brunei Ministry of Transportation. And they prefer to favour the development of our own national carrier, Royal Brunei Airways”, added Mrs. Salleh.
Another way to boost Brunei image internationally would be to have more international hotel chains. The only international property is so far the Radisson in BSB. “They are no plans to my knowledge for new properties or for rebranding existing properties. Here too, we need to fill up rooms in existing properties as average occupancy is only around 40% to 50%”, told Brunei Tourism Officer.
Brunei looks however to re-orientate the strategy by providing better information on available tourism activities. “Many tourists coming are only there in transit on their way to Malaysia or on a cruise. Then they realize that there is more to do than what they first thought”, said Mrs. Salleh.
Tourism authorities are now looking at promoting various packages. The first ones have been released for Bandar Seri Begawan and for Temburong District. For Bandar Seri Begawan, four tours are now proposed including a full-day city and water village package; a half-day city package; a sunset river package as well as a Proboscis Monkey tour. For Temburong, packages focus mainly on rainforest discovery and various sport and adventure activities.
Summer English camps are also head for kids and teenagers while special packages have also been created for the period of Ramadan. “In Brunei, Ramadan is a peaceful time where praying and meditation are part of our way to look at ourselves”, described Salinah Salleh. Other packages are now being prepared for Kuala Belait, the district being the heart of the oil industry for Brunei. “Many ethnics are living in this part of the country while visitors can also learn about oil development. The area would be a good addition to activities in other districts”, told Mrs. Salleh.