Brunei Tourism – A sad ‘state’ of affairs

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’m not in a state of grace.
It’s something far far loonier.
I’m a terrible case; see the lines on my face? In in the state of Dunia.

I’m not in a state of sin.
Indeed, I’d very much soonier.
I’m getting so thin; what a mess I am in.
I’m in the State of Dunia. 

I’m not in a state of health —
My voice gets croakier and croonier.
But I’ve picked up some wealth and I’ve done it by stealth.
I’m in the State of Dunia.

mosque-84493_1920

A ditty sang by colonial officers in the 1961 novel by Anthony Burgess based on his experience living and working in Bandar Seri Bagawan, capital of the tiny island nation Brunei Darussalam. Anthony Burgess renamed Brunei initially Naraka, the Malayo-Arabic word for “hell,” later changing the setting to Africa and Naraka to Dunia, the Arabic word for “life” in order to avoid libel.

Changing the setting, however, has yet to enamour Brunei to visitors almost 60 years later with tourism numbers in steady decline for over a decade. While its fellow ASEAN members continue to experience growth year after year, Brunei has been unable to repeat the giddy heights of 2004 when they peaked at 1 million visitors, with arrivals in 2014 approximately 250,000–270,000.

This is not expected to be helped further in 2016 and beyond as the state received criticism internationally for the implementation of Shariah law announced by its wealthy Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah now in his 48th year of rule, the law came under a little criticism online within Brunei but was comfortably quashed with the Sultan instructing his citizens to halt criticism. Bruneians currently receive free healthcare and education, most are employed within the public sector and have to date expressed their contentment with living under Shariah law.

Twitter Brunei
Celebrities at the time of the announcement of the law spoke out against the abuse of human rights and boycotted the Sultan’s investments in the United States and UK. The Sultan was not to be deterred until the TPP negotiations ramped up

Brunei Twitter Brum

The rolling out of the penal law is carried out in three phases, with phase one having become rule of law in May 2014. Punishments include fines and jail terms for crimes deemed by the state such as missing Friday prayers and out-of-wedlock pregnancies, among others. Phase two handles more stringent penalties such as loss of limbs or flogging for offenses including theft, and phase three will include death by stoning for crimes including homosexuality and adultery. Phase two was expected to have been introduced months ago but has been delayed during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as Brunei risked being shut out completely. It since has taken a softer stance on phase one with indefinite delays currently on final phases.

A kingdom of unexpected treasures

Brunei’s revenue is almost wholly dominated by oil revenues accounting for 78 per cent of its total revenue of $3.2 billion in 2014, but with the drastic drop in oil prices that revenue will decrease significantly in 2015. Hence there has been an urgency over the last few years through its strategic vision and plan, almost attempting to emulate the successful GCC states, to diversify its economy either into an Islamic finance hub, or through a halal industry or through tourism.

The master plan for tourism is focusing on the capitalisation of differences from neighbouring states and uses them as competitive advantages, namely its uniqueness of culture and religion, security and political stability. A $300,000 budget for the year was announced, hastily defended as operational expenses, and the head of the Brunei Economic Development Board recently moved to spearhead this effort as the new Minister of Industry and Tourism.

 

Brunei may seem devoid of interesting sights but there is genuine warmth to be found in its people who are friendy and most hospitable, whether one is there for business or pleasure. A lush and pristine jungle can be explored, and there is a great sense of security. The government’s promotional videos to date (see below) have focused on attracting visitors by displaying Brunei’s culture through indigenous women dancing, its variety of food, its military signifying security and stability and its vast green agricultural fields should visitors happen to find their way outside the capital and consequently see those living in poverty hidden from the view of the capital.

 

 

Would you visit Brunei?

Tripadvisor lists the following top 10 places as the most popular attractions in Brunei. The list is dominated by museums and mosques that are an architectural delight especially at night, hoping to capitalise on culture and religion but its neighbour Malaysia currently leads the way as a destination for Muslim tourists and is far ahead in Islamic finance and the halal industry. The strength of the Bruneian dollar is not helping matters either for those few tourists that are heading out to Brunei.

Brunei---TA

Over many visits to the Island I had the opportunity to talk to tourists, those working within the public and private sectors, locals and expats alike many of which I would find enjoying afternoon tea or teeing up at the golf course at the lavish The Empire Hotel and Country Club. I posed the same question to all with varying responses, What do you do when you are not working or why did you visit Brunei?

McDonalds is 100% owned by the government. There has been a furore for a 2nd store for a number of years, expected to open soon.
McDonalds is 100% owned by the government. There has been a furore for a 2nd store for a number of years, expected to open soon.

A government official in his Mid-40’s that travels frequently on trade missions explained its good that alcohol is banned and smoking is almost fully extinguished as these substances pollute body and mind alike and after work he spends quality time with his wife and kids or at trying to improve his handicap at the golf course. He informed me the current favourite family activity is collecting minion toys that run out within days at the only McDonalds’ in the capital as he hastily exited.

An expat in his Mid-40’s at one of the leading educational institutions in the state commented, he is biding his time until he has collected enough funds at the end of his contract to go back home and settle. Rueing opportunities to bring about meaningful change within his sector are restricted by many rules within the confines of the institution. He was counting down the days to his flight home over Xmas so he can once again feel freedom of movement as he explained ‘ The country is not at a crossroads but continues to take paces backwards, but we stay quiet or we will be thrown out’

A young couple from Europe in their early 20’s clutching a travel guide informed me they were here as ‘nobody else is here, it’s a chance for us to really tread off the beaten track’. They had not found much to do but very much enjoyed the solitude of being alone, experiencing no traffic or pollution. I asked when they would return, and I received a smile in response.

I then met a vibrant young man in his mid 20’s working his way up through the private sector and when not working his favourite hobby is to discover places to eat so i was invited to meet up at the annual Ramadan market. He explained it’s not always been like this, when he was growing up they had an amusement park (Jerudong National Park) that was the talk of the country. Lines would stretch for miles as entry and rides were for free, he recalled wistfully how Michael Jackson played there, ‘then there was a shift in policy as the government decided to charge us too much and we all stopped going there, so now we eat’.

I decided to visit Jerudong National Park which is still operating, but after I parked I noticed there was nobody around, assuming it was closed I almost proceeded to the exits before an elderly gentleman waved me over by the gate ‘we are open my friend, would you like a tour?’. It’s eerie feel not helped with the two of us being the only ones in the park where many of the rides were unusable due to lack of maintenance, however ‘we do get some visitors on the weekend’ explained the guard, ‘but we have sold off many rides, especially the popular roller-coasters to large private businessmen’. The park is currently the smallest and most expensive amusement park in Southeast Asia having cost a cool $1 billion to build.

Inside Brunei 2013/14
Inside Brunei 2013/14
Buy now and get 42 page Brunei 2012 report FREE
$19.95

 

Image

As the ASEAN bloc continues to gather pace and its member countries move forward it shall be interesting to see how a country and its citizens who are very proud of their image, attract tourists based on what they perceive as their competitive advantages. More so should the TPP fail to gain legislative approval in the US then you can expect to see Brunei continue its implementation of Shariah law at a time when the Sultan and his families lifestyle’s have been brought into question.

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I'm not in a state of grace. It's something far far loonier. I'm a terrible case; see the lines on my face? In in the state of Dunia. I'm not in a state of sin. Indeed, I'd very much soonier. I'm getting so thin; what a mess I am in. I'm in the State of Dunia.  I'm not in a state of health — My voice gets croakier and croonier. But I've picked up some wealth and I've done it by stealth. I'm in the State of Dunia. A ditty sang by colonial officers in the 1961 novel by Anthony...

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’m not in a state of grace.
It’s something far far loonier.
I’m a terrible case; see the lines on my face? In in the state of Dunia.

I’m not in a state of sin.
Indeed, I’d very much soonier.
I’m getting so thin; what a mess I am in.
I’m in the State of Dunia. 

I’m not in a state of health —
My voice gets croakier and croonier.
But I’ve picked up some wealth and I’ve done it by stealth.
I’m in the State of Dunia.

mosque-84493_1920

A ditty sang by colonial officers in the 1961 novel by Anthony Burgess based on his experience living and working in Bandar Seri Bagawan, capital of the tiny island nation Brunei Darussalam. Anthony Burgess renamed Brunei initially Naraka, the Malayo-Arabic word for “hell,” later changing the setting to Africa and Naraka to Dunia, the Arabic word for “life” in order to avoid libel.

Changing the setting, however, has yet to enamour Brunei to visitors almost 60 years later with tourism numbers in steady decline for over a decade. While its fellow ASEAN members continue to experience growth year after year, Brunei has been unable to repeat the giddy heights of 2004 when they peaked at 1 million visitors, with arrivals in 2014 approximately 250,000–270,000.

This is not expected to be helped further in 2016 and beyond as the state received criticism internationally for the implementation of Shariah law announced by its wealthy Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah now in his 48th year of rule, the law came under a little criticism online within Brunei but was comfortably quashed with the Sultan instructing his citizens to halt criticism. Bruneians currently receive free healthcare and education, most are employed within the public sector and have to date expressed their contentment with living under Shariah law.

Twitter Brunei
Celebrities at the time of the announcement of the law spoke out against the abuse of human rights and boycotted the Sultan’s investments in the United States and UK. The Sultan was not to be deterred until the TPP negotiations ramped up

Brunei Twitter Brum

The rolling out of the penal law is carried out in three phases, with phase one having become rule of law in May 2014. Punishments include fines and jail terms for crimes deemed by the state such as missing Friday prayers and out-of-wedlock pregnancies, among others. Phase two handles more stringent penalties such as loss of limbs or flogging for offenses including theft, and phase three will include death by stoning for crimes including homosexuality and adultery. Phase two was expected to have been introduced months ago but has been delayed during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as Brunei risked being shut out completely. It since has taken a softer stance on phase one with indefinite delays currently on final phases.

A kingdom of unexpected treasures

Brunei’s revenue is almost wholly dominated by oil revenues accounting for 78 per cent of its total revenue of $3.2 billion in 2014, but with the drastic drop in oil prices that revenue will decrease significantly in 2015. Hence there has been an urgency over the last few years through its strategic vision and plan, almost attempting to emulate the successful GCC states, to diversify its economy either into an Islamic finance hub, or through a halal industry or through tourism.

The master plan for tourism is focusing on the capitalisation of differences from neighbouring states and uses them as competitive advantages, namely its uniqueness of culture and religion, security and political stability. A $300,000 budget for the year was announced, hastily defended as operational expenses, and the head of the Brunei Economic Development Board recently moved to spearhead this effort as the new Minister of Industry and Tourism.

 

Brunei may seem devoid of interesting sights but there is genuine warmth to be found in its people who are friendy and most hospitable, whether one is there for business or pleasure. A lush and pristine jungle can be explored, and there is a great sense of security. The government’s promotional videos to date (see below) have focused on attracting visitors by displaying Brunei’s culture through indigenous women dancing, its variety of food, its military signifying security and stability and its vast green agricultural fields should visitors happen to find their way outside the capital and consequently see those living in poverty hidden from the view of the capital.

 

 

Would you visit Brunei?

Tripadvisor lists the following top 10 places as the most popular attractions in Brunei. The list is dominated by museums and mosques that are an architectural delight especially at night, hoping to capitalise on culture and religion but its neighbour Malaysia currently leads the way as a destination for Muslim tourists and is far ahead in Islamic finance and the halal industry. The strength of the Bruneian dollar is not helping matters either for those few tourists that are heading out to Brunei.

Brunei---TA

Over many visits to the Island I had the opportunity to talk to tourists, those working within the public and private sectors, locals and expats alike many of which I would find enjoying afternoon tea or teeing up at the golf course at the lavish The Empire Hotel and Country Club. I posed the same question to all with varying responses, What do you do when you are not working or why did you visit Brunei?

McDonalds is 100% owned by the government. There has been a furore for a 2nd store for a number of years, expected to open soon.
McDonalds is 100% owned by the government. There has been a furore for a 2nd store for a number of years, expected to open soon.

A government official in his Mid-40’s that travels frequently on trade missions explained its good that alcohol is banned and smoking is almost fully extinguished as these substances pollute body and mind alike and after work he spends quality time with his wife and kids or at trying to improve his handicap at the golf course. He informed me the current favourite family activity is collecting minion toys that run out within days at the only McDonalds’ in the capital as he hastily exited.

An expat in his Mid-40’s at one of the leading educational institutions in the state commented, he is biding his time until he has collected enough funds at the end of his contract to go back home and settle. Rueing opportunities to bring about meaningful change within his sector are restricted by many rules within the confines of the institution. He was counting down the days to his flight home over Xmas so he can once again feel freedom of movement as he explained ‘ The country is not at a crossroads but continues to take paces backwards, but we stay quiet or we will be thrown out’

A young couple from Europe in their early 20’s clutching a travel guide informed me they were here as ‘nobody else is here, it’s a chance for us to really tread off the beaten track’. They had not found much to do but very much enjoyed the solitude of being alone, experiencing no traffic or pollution. I asked when they would return, and I received a smile in response.

I then met a vibrant young man in his mid 20’s working his way up through the private sector and when not working his favourite hobby is to discover places to eat so i was invited to meet up at the annual Ramadan market. He explained it’s not always been like this, when he was growing up they had an amusement park (Jerudong National Park) that was the talk of the country. Lines would stretch for miles as entry and rides were for free, he recalled wistfully how Michael Jackson played there, ‘then there was a shift in policy as the government decided to charge us too much and we all stopped going there, so now we eat’.

I decided to visit Jerudong National Park which is still operating, but after I parked I noticed there was nobody around, assuming it was closed I almost proceeded to the exits before an elderly gentleman waved me over by the gate ‘we are open my friend, would you like a tour?’. It’s eerie feel not helped with the two of us being the only ones in the park where many of the rides were unusable due to lack of maintenance, however ‘we do get some visitors on the weekend’ explained the guard, ‘but we have sold off many rides, especially the popular roller-coasters to large private businessmen’. The park is currently the smallest and most expensive amusement park in Southeast Asia having cost a cool $1 billion to build.

Inside Brunei 2013/14
Inside Brunei 2013/14
Buy now and get 42 page Brunei 2012 report FREE
$19.95

 

Image

As the ASEAN bloc continues to gather pace and its member countries move forward it shall be interesting to see how a country and its citizens who are very proud of their image, attract tourists based on what they perceive as their competitive advantages. More so should the TPP fail to gain legislative approval in the US then you can expect to see Brunei continue its implementation of Shariah law at a time when the Sultan and his families lifestyle’s have been brought into question.

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