All eyes on tourism sector

, National 4 minutes, 11 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

BRUNEI’S tourism industry has all eyes set on it for the upcoming 12th Legislative Council (LegCo) session following the recent ministerial status given to tourism.

Grassroot leaders are eager to contribute to give tourism the much needed boost, however the agencies involved have yet to unveil the approach they plan on taking to ensure that tourism will flourish.

Initially, tourism was only a department under the ministry formerly known as the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources.

With His Majesty the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s announcement of a cabinet reshuffle last October, the ministry found itself with a new minister Yang Berhormat Dato Paduka Hj Ali Hj Apong alongside its shift to tourism.

This renewed focus was felt through the grassroot levels with members of the public keen to put Brunei back onto the map through the ‘One Village, One Product’ initiative.

 New additions were made to the list of 162 products and services under the ‘One Village, one Product’ initiative.

Currently the list includes products and services that would serve to enrich the experience tourists would have in Brunei such as homestays, tour packages, and souvenirs such as local handicrafts.

However, the governmental support that these rural entrepreneurs say they require still remains uncertain especially with the budget allocation set aside for tourism over the past years. 

The subject of tourism and how it would help steer the Brunei economy away from its oil and gas reliance was brought up in several LegCo sessions, however, there were always issues of how its allocated budget was to be fully optimised.

 In a 2008 report, LegCo members aired their grievances about how a $1.5 million budget would be insufficient and inadequate to promote the sultanate internationally on a large scale. 

A larger sum would be required, said Yang Berhormat Pehin Kapitan Lela Diraja Dato Paduka Goh King Chin at the time.

 The same LegCo member again reiterated the same view in 2012.

The minister of the then Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar said that in addition to the annual budget, the tourism sector had an allocated $4.9 million for development and promotion.

 Former Director of Brunei Tourism, Sheikh Jamaluddin Sheikh Mohamed also clarified the amount allocated to the Tourism sector stating that the annual $1.5 million was merely for operational costs and that for a period of five years the sector was given $40 million for five years which averaged up to $8 million per year.

However, the allocated budget for tourism nosedived last year with only one-fifth of its previous annual budget.

It had only received $300,000 that would cover its daily operations.

 News of privatisation was revealed with Pehin Yahya stating that some sites had been identified as tourists’ sites and they were open to domestic and foreign investors.

 “The Berakas Forest Reserve Recreational Park will be developed where the operations, management and maintenance of the park area will be outsourced soon,” said the current minister of primary resources and tourism, YB Dato Hj Ali Hj Apong, last December.

The minister said it is better to outsource the operations, management and maintenance of recreational areas to private companies as they have more experience doing it.

However, he has noted that it is important to have close partnerships with various stakeholders including travel agents, tour operators, hoteliers and transport operators to promote tourism in Brunei.

Nonetheless, the grassroots are hopeful for some governmental support to place Brunei on the map.

“We have been carrying this out for almost 10 years to ensure that we would get this right,” said Hj Jali Hj Nudin from the Village Consultative Council (MPK) of Tungku and Katok.

They were one of the MPKs that had officially launched their product – madu lebah kelulut (stingless bee honey) – and were optimistic about the prospects of showcasing Brunei through their product.

“We could easily earn up to $400 to $500 per month from our honey harvest.

“We want to help boost tourism efforts when we are more capable but it may take some time,” said Hj Jali in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Sungai Bunga MPK and Head of Economic Bureau, Zaini Hj Salleh, said that they were keen to boost the tourism sector, however, they would require assistance from relevant government authorities, specifically the Tourism Department

The MPK’s homestay recently received an award at the 35th ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) in Manila where they received the ASEAN Homestay Award.

The ASEAN Homestay standard certificates provide an opportunity to promote ASEAN Homestay so that those running homestays can understand the basic requirements of a quality visitor experience and establish a minimum standard across all ASEAN member states.

“We market it through Airbnb and we got good response,” said Hj Zaini.

 However, he also added that he has contacted the Tourism Department to help him increase more awareness by collaborating with travel agents and is currently still in discussion.

The Brunei Times