Can Brunei Tourism be Affected by Sharia-linked Death Penalty?

Brunei, ASEAN, ATF, LGBT, Royal Brunei

Adultery, homosexuality, robbery and blasphemy will now be punished in Brunei with death penalty. How can tourism survive as negative headlines over the Sultanate is likely to have an impact on travellers’ decision?

It had been delayed a few times but finally the law has been passed and officially enacted. Last week, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Head of Brunei State and also Prime Minister announced that new Islamic criminal laws following sharia were now turning effective. People committing homosexual sex and adultery will now face stoning to death. Brunei, a small sultanate on Borneo Island surrounded by Malaysia, will have the privilege to be the only country in Southeast Asia to go that way.

In the world, they are only 14 countries implementing death penalty for adultery and homosexuality. They are Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (northern states), Qatar (extra-marital affairs only for Muslims), Saudi Arabia, Somalia (southern states), Sudan and Yemen.

Brunei goes evem further. According to various websites, the penalties apply to Muslims and non-Muslims including foreigners even not in the country but travelling on Brunei registered aircraft or vessels. Amputations will also be implemented for thieves while blasphemy and apostasy are also punishable with death sentence. In recent years, Brunei has for example banned Christmas celebration, even banning locals of wishing a merry Christmas to Christians.

Many countries and the UN told their strong opposition to what has been called barbaric, medieval and inhuman. Many celebrities have asked to boycott the Dorchester Collection hotels, which belong to the Sultan of Brunei investment agency. The Dorchester Collection is composed of nine prestigious hotels including the London Dorchester, the London Park Lane, Paris Plaza Athénée and Meurice, the Hotel Eden in Rome, the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan as well as Los Angeles Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air.

Not only the hotel company but also Brunei national carrier Royal Brunei is likely to be a victim of the sultanate new sharia laws. Virgin Australia cancelled a staff travel agreement with RBA while the world’s largest travel company for students and youth announced to stop immediately selling tickets on the airline. STA announced two days ago: “We’re proud of our open and diverse culture and we expect our partners to demonstrate the same. We do not support in any way the laws being introduced in Brunei (including on Brunei-registered aircraft and vessels). Because of this we have stopped selling Royal Brunei Airlines flights.”

The Australian government has also been challenged by citizens to look at eventually banning RBA of landing in the country. Queensland regional government also decided to cancel any cooperation with Royal Brunei which is due to start flying to Brisbane. Other countries could also look again at RBA landing rights such as the UK…

And what about Brunei tourism? So far, they have been little impact for the small country. Brunei actually receives less than 300,000 real tourists per year–excluding commuters from nearby Malaysia. Although it is likely that a lot of Western tourists will boycott the destination, the country will turn its sights to its neighbours- Malaysia and Indonesia mostly-, to China –which is less sensitive to human rights issues- as well as other Muslim countries.

A strict sharia implementation could actually even attract more travellers with strict Islamic principles. The only impact faced so far by Brunei Tourism has been the termination of a campaign in London public transport which emphasized the Sultanate as the ‘abode of peace’… The campaign actually described the Sultanate as a land blessed in an old lasting culture and heritage with pristine nature and proud to embrace also the spirit of contemporary Asia. Stoning to death people because of their sexual orientation or because of their feeling to someone sounds then at the opposite of what Brunei claims to be!

So far, Brunei Sultan stands to his words and principles. Answering to critics, the Sultan said in a television speech that Brunei is a “fair and happy nation” where visitors can bring home a “sweet experience” thanks to Islamic Ideology.

A crucial test might then be the coming ASEAN Travel Forum, which is hosted every year in a different member country of the association, on a rotating basis. ATF2020 is due to take place in Brunei and it is possible that many companies or individuals might then boycott the event due to the new laws. And also due to the fact that the LGBT community has been for a long time part of the travel industry, even inside Brunei…

Of course, they are no clear signs that Brunei will effectively implement the law in the reality. Amnesty International said in a statement that the country was “abolitionist in practice” when it comes to the death penalty.But just to enact the law is already a bad sign.