Brunei woos more Chi­nese visi­tors

The coun­try’s top tourism of­fi­cial plans to wel­come 400,000 peo­ple in 2016

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By ZHAO SHENGNAN in Ban­dar Seri Be­gawan, Brunei zhaosheng­nan@chi­

Brunei be­lieves it is time for its unique but un­der­per­form­ing tourism in­dus­try to shine. To achieve this, it aims to lure more Chi­nese tourists to its pris­tine land and fa­cil­i­tate more Chi­nese in­vest­ment in the tourism sec­tor, the coun­try’s head of tourism said.

“The Chi­nese mar­ket is def­i­nitely im­por­tant for us be­cause of its mag­ni­tude and po­ten­tial,” Mar­i­ani Haji Sabtu, act­ing di­rec­tor of the Tourism De­vel­op­ment Depart­ment of Brunei, told China Daily. “We will try as much as pos­si­ble to de­velop more prod­ucts and ser­vices to cater to Chi­nese tourists,” she said.

In 2011, 33,900 Chi­nese tourists vis­ited Brunei, plac­ing them a dis­tant sec­ond to Malaysians, Brunei’s top tourist group. That to­tal was also dwarfed by the num­ber of Chi­nese tourists go­ing to other tra­di­tional tourism des­ti­na­tions in South­east Asia such as Thai­land and Sin­ga­pore.

In the same year, 242,000 tourists vis­ited Brunei, but di­rect tourism rev­enues rep­re­sented just 1 per­cent of its GDP, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the tourism board for the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion.

In re­sponse, the coun­try has been rolling out a Tourism Mas­ter Plan 2011-15 to tar­get 400,000 in­ter­na­tional visi­tors in 2016 and to in­crease the sec­tor’s con­tri­bu­tion to GDP, which is al­most to­tally sup­ported by ex­ports of crude oil and nat­u­ral gas.

“The well- pre­served nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and cul­tural her­itage, which in­cludes Is­lamic tourism, are the two main driv­ers of Brunei’s tourism,” said the di­rec­tor. She was re­fer­ring to the fact that about half of the coun­try, which is about the size of Shang­hai with a pop­u­la­tion of just 412,200, is cov­ered by in­tact dense forests and man­grove swamps.

Places that have at­tracted many Chi­nese visi­tors, such as Kam­pong Ayer, the world’s largest wa­ter vil­lage, and the Brunei Mu­seum, are must-sees, Mar­i­ani said.

She also rec­om­mended Ulu Tem­burong Na­tional Park, a “peace­ful place” for those “who re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the coun­try”, and the ed­u­ca­tional Oil & Gas Dis­cov­ery Center, for young visi­tors. The Royal Re­galia Mu­seum, fea­tur­ing a per­sonal col­lec­tion of ar­ti­facts given to the royal fam­ily, is also worth a visit, she said.

But to tap Brunei’s po­ten­tial, the coun­try has been ad­dress­ing ob­sta­cles that once hin­dered Chi­nese from vis­it­ing the coun­try, Mar­i­ani said, cit­ing the ab­sence of visa ex­emp­tion poli­cies for Chi­nese tourists, lim­ited con­nec­tiv­ity and a short­age of tour guides who know enough about the two coun­tries.

The na­tional car­rier, Royal Brunei Air­lines, only serves a few big cities in China. There are no non­stop flights be­tween the two cap­i­tals.

Song Kai, chair­man of BL­ITS Co Ltd, who rep­re­sents the air­lines in Bei­jing, said ear­lier this year that flights from Shang­hai to Brunei’s cap­i­tal, Ban­dar Seri Be­gawan, were al­most al­ways full. He called for the in­tro­duc­tion of more flights.

Mar­i­ani said Brunei had ap­pointed an agency in Bei­jing to help pro­mote tourism, one of only two coun­tries in the world where it has done so.

Her depart­ment was also strength­en­ing online mar­ket­ing and mulling whether to launch stu­dent ex­change pro­grams for Chi­nese visi­tors through plat­forms such as Weibo.

“We want to reach more young, highly ed­u­cated and na­ture-con­scious Chi­nese through online mar­ket­ing be­cause they are able to ap­pre­ci­ate na­ture,” she said.

Brunei and China should co­op­er­ate in train­ing tour guides un­der the ASEAN um­brella and bi­lat­eral agree­ments, es­pe­cially since sim­i­lar pro­grams be­tween Brunei and South Korea and Ja­pan have proved suc­cess­ful, Mar­i­ani said.

“Brunei also wel­comes and will give pri­or­ity to Chi­nese in­vest­ment in up­grad­ing the coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture, but such in­vest­ment has to sup­port Brunei’s agenda in terms of en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity,” she added.

“There is no deny­ing that tourism is one of the ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to em­ploy­ment and also a ma­jor chan­nel for de­vel­op­ment,” Mar­i­ani said. “How­ever, Brunei is a small coun­try. We can­not af­ford to de­stroy it, so we need to be more and more care­ful.”

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