Tourism masterplan to help boost Brunei’s GDP

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Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

Brunei has now embarked on the roll-out of a major tourism masterplan that aims to boost tourism numbers in the Sultanate to a level which would help the industry contribute to a larger extent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

However, how can the attractions of Brunei be better communicated, and how can connectivity be improved?

Travel and tourism was directly responsible for just $299 million, or 1.8 per cent, of Brunei’s GDP in 2012, employing some 5,500 people, which is not that much.

Around 241,000 visitors came to the Sultanate last year, and the government now aims to step up this number to 260,000 in 2013, an envisaged increase of 8 per cent.

The main tourism attractions in Brunei are its natural assets and its culture, while the second is dealing with the Islamic heritage and the emerging segment of Islamic tourism, which the country now wants to expand to tap the growing market for Muslim visitors.

However, these plans are facing challenges that mainly include infrastructure deficiencies and low levels of foreign investment in the tourism sector.

Poor public transport services and limited aviation connectivity are the key infrastructure issues in Brunei, with improved policies regarding landing rights seen as one of the potential solutions.

Royal Brunei Airlines cut flights to Australia and New Zealand in 2012 to concentrate on its three primary long-haul destinations of Melbourne, Dubai and London. But it should have done more to attract passengers from the Southeast Asian region and needs to work together with tourism authorities to promote Brunei as a stopover destination on the way to Australia and the Far East.

With regards to tourism investment, Brunei will have to ease limits on foreign ownership of tourism businesses, if it really wants the sector to take off.

By loosening these restrictions and offering more incentives for both foreign and domestic private sector players, the government could pave the way for tourism to play a greater part in the economy.

This would especially be applicable to planned projects in Bandar Seri Begawan, which include the construction of an airport hub cum retail facilities and commercial areas, as well as the restoration of the historic area of Kampong Ayer, including the upgrade of museums and handicraft centres.

However, the road to pushing the tourism sector is stony. Brunei recently dropped to 72nd place on the list of 140 countries featured in the World Economic Forum’s latest Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, released in March 2013, indicating that the Sultanate urgently needs to tackle issues of key infrastructure and human resource deficiencies, as well as establishing more visa-on-arrival facilities for short time visitors who don’t want to go through the hassle of organising a visa beforehand just for a stopover in the country.

The tourist guide Discover Brunei by Internet startup company MeSixty (which, by the way, is funded by a Singapore-based venture capital fund) has been a first step to better marketing of Brunei as a tourism destination. However, the Sultanate needs more initiatives like this.

 

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

By Arno Maierbrugger

Brunei has now embarked on the roll-out of a major tourism masterplan that aims to boost tourism numbers in the Sultanate to a level which would help the industry contribute to a larger extent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

Brunei has now embarked on the roll-out of a major tourism masterplan that aims to boost tourism numbers in the Sultanate to a level which would help the industry contribute to a larger extent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

However, how can the attractions of Brunei be better communicated, and how can connectivity be improved?

Travel and tourism was directly responsible for just $299 million, or 1.8 per cent, of Brunei’s GDP in 2012, employing some 5,500 people, which is not that much.

Around 241,000 visitors came to the Sultanate last year, and the government now aims to step up this number to 260,000 in 2013, an envisaged increase of 8 per cent.

The main tourism attractions in Brunei are its natural assets and its culture, while the second is dealing with the Islamic heritage and the emerging segment of Islamic tourism, which the country now wants to expand to tap the growing market for Muslim visitors.

However, these plans are facing challenges that mainly include infrastructure deficiencies and low levels of foreign investment in the tourism sector.

Poor public transport services and limited aviation connectivity are the key infrastructure issues in Brunei, with improved policies regarding landing rights seen as one of the potential solutions.

Royal Brunei Airlines cut flights to Australia and New Zealand in 2012 to concentrate on its three primary long-haul destinations of Melbourne, Dubai and London. But it should have done more to attract passengers from the Southeast Asian region and needs to work together with tourism authorities to promote Brunei as a stopover destination on the way to Australia and the Far East.

With regards to tourism investment, Brunei will have to ease limits on foreign ownership of tourism businesses, if it really wants the sector to take off.

By loosening these restrictions and offering more incentives for both foreign and domestic private sector players, the government could pave the way for tourism to play a greater part in the economy.

This would especially be applicable to planned projects in Bandar Seri Begawan, which include the construction of an airport hub cum retail facilities and commercial areas, as well as the restoration of the historic area of Kampong Ayer, including the upgrade of museums and handicraft centres.

However, the road to pushing the tourism sector is stony. Brunei recently dropped to 72nd place on the list of 140 countries featured in the World Economic Forum’s latest Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, released in March 2013, indicating that the Sultanate urgently needs to tackle issues of key infrastructure and human resource deficiencies, as well as establishing more visa-on-arrival facilities for short time visitors who don’t want to go through the hassle of organising a visa beforehand just for a stopover in the country.

The tourist guide Discover Brunei by Internet startup company MeSixty (which, by the way, is funded by a Singapore-based venture capital fund) has been a first step to better marketing of Brunei as a tourism destination. However, the Sultanate needs more initiatives like this.

 

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

Brunei Times logo

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