Brunei sees great scope for sustainable tourism

|     James Kon     |

DESPITE the growing competition to attract tourists and keeping up with the changing trends in the tourism industry, the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) is making all-out efforts to develop Brunei’s tourism sector, said Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali bin Haji Apong, Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism.

“MPRT is striving to increase the number of visitors to the country by promoting sustainable tourism initiatives that seek to balance tourist inflow with the Sultanate’s landscape, especially its rich rainforests,” he underscored in his address at the opening ceremony of the International Tourism Conference and Exhibition (ITCE) 2018.

Taking place at the Pengiran Anak Puteri Rashidah Sa’adatul Bolkiah Institute of Health Sciences (PAPRSB IHS), Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), the event carries the theme ‘Tourism and Heritage: The Asean and Borneo Context’.

ITCE 2018 aims to provide a platform for the development of tourism in Brunei and Borneo.

The conference is organised by the Borneo Studies Network – a body comprising 12 major universities and research institutions in the Borneo region and its secretariats.

Launching the ITCE 2018, the minister said, “Sustainable tourism is identified as a significant contributor to sustainable development because it involves close linkages to other sectors and has the ability to create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities.

“Tourism growth and sustainability should be equally reinforced. Embedding sustainability into our tourism development is vital as the United Nations has highlighted the need to support sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity building that promote environmental awareness, conserve and protect the environment, respect wildlife, flora, biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural diversity and improve welfare as well as livelihoods of the local communities.”

Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali bin Haji Apong, Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism launching the International Tourism Conference and Exhibition 2018. – JAMES KON

Talking about Brunei’s Heart of Borneo Initiative, he said, “Brunei’s comparative advantage is in its location on the third largest island in the world in the centre of Southeast Asia. Borneo is unique as it signifies three comparable Asean member states (Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia) that are rich in history, heritage and natural resources.

“Borneo has the potential for healthy and active ecotourism. As part of Borneo, we share a common goal and cooperate with the other two major countries through the Heart of Borneo Initiative which aims to empower locals to manage cross-border or inter-border tourism.

“The Heart of Borneo Initiative seeks to find an equilibrium between our vibrant ecosystems, including by linking heritage with tourism development, to contribute towards the economies of the three nations of Borneo,” the minister added.

Earlier in his remarks, the minister also touched on the optimistic development of tourism in the country.

“Today, we see Brunei is beginning to yield positive results from tourism. The Tourism Development Department’s data has indicated that tourist arrivals increased by 10 per cent towards the end of 2017, compared to 0.3 per cent in 2016. The positive growth is attributed to the new product development initiatives that include the Bandar Seri Begawan and Kampong Ayer heritage trails, Tutong Destination Packages, the Belait Destination Packages, the Brunei Diving Packages, the Temburong Holiday Destination Packages and the most recent Brunei December Festival.

“By creating and promoting primary, emerging and activity-based tourism products, identified in the Tourism Development Department’s strategic plans, and constantly improving the quality of tourism products, services as well as facilities, we are moving towards a positive direction to realise the department’s aim of increasing the number of tourists visiting the country,” the minister noted.

Meanwhile, Dayangku Dr Noor Hasharina binti Pengiran Haji Hassan, Chair of ITCE Context Working Group Committees who is also the Head of Borneo Studies Network Secretariat Office in UBD, highlighted, “We are proud to be able to organise such an event under Borneo Studies Network. The conference will touch on issues of sustainable tourism and contributing to the conference are tourism stakeholders including from the government, the private sector and the tourism industry.”

Among the major themes to be addressed in the conference sessions are: Tourism in the Development Agenda, Innovative Planning/Strategies for Sustainable Tourism, Identity and Heritage Conservation, Niche Tourisms, Perspectives on Tourism Promotion as well as Lessons for Tourism Planning and Development.

Borneo Studies Network plans to compile an edited volume based on the papers presented at the conference to be published by Springer Verlag, a leading international academic publisher.

In his keynote address on ‘Asean Tourism and Heritage: Issues, Problems and Prospects’, Professor Victor T King, professor of Borneo Studies at the Institute of Asian Studies in UBD highlighted the importance of comparative studies across three politically separate territories in Borneo as well as the investigation of the relationships between convergence and divergence in tourism provision and border crossing.

He also touched on the convergence of nature across the Borneo Island and highlighted the importance of nature, natural heritage as well as the promotion of ecotourism focussing on national parks, lakes, uplands, coasts, river routes, forests reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.

While speaking about convergence of culture and tourism, he cited longhouse tourism which he said is primarily seen in Sarawak and to a limited extent in Sabah, and not (that popular) in Brunei and Kalimantan.

He believes that the tourism industry will grow in scale and intensity in Borneo if Kalimantan improves its facilities.

“Sabah and Sarawak already have well-organised facilities while Brunei Darussalam’s tourism industry will grow incrementally but it should develop eco packages with Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.