Coronavirus takes a toll on Brunei tourism

Aziz Idris

Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has suspended flights to the provinces of Hubei, Zhejiang and Jiangsu in the People’s Republic of China, in addition to reducing the number of flights to Hong Kong and Taipei.

With local authorities issuing travel bans and suspensions of flights, especially from mainland China, the Brunei travel sector is bracing itself for the impact of the global pandemic.

China is the largest source of overseas travel to the Sultanate, followed by other Far East markets in South Korea and Japan. According to Brunei’s Tourism Development Department, China is the top source market for tourist arrivals to Brunei, with a record number of 43,000 arrivals from January to July in 2019.

Their absence is keenly felt by the local hoteliers and tour operators that thrived under their patronage.

A hotel in Jerudong is now facing an 80 per cent drop in occupancy rates, due to cancellations of bookings from Chinese tour groups since the travel advisories were announced.

“Most cancellations are from the (Chinese) tour groups and also a few cancellations from our online booking platform (agoda, booking.com),” said the hotel manager.

Photo shows the view of the capital from Kampong Ayer. With local authorities issuing travel bans and suspensions of flights, especially from mainland China, the Brunei travel sector is bracing itself for the impact of the global pandemic. PHOTO: HALIMATUL HAFIZ BTE MD YURAHALIM

In view of this, the hotel has dropped room rates for online bookings by 20 per cent, until further notice. They are now trying to attract local clients by providing special discounts.

Tour operator Lesly said he is lucky to not have focussed exclusively on tourists from China. “But some of my friends did, and they are really suffering due to the onset of the coronavirus and the cancellation of tourist arrivals from China,” he said.

Lesly added that he can still survive, as the majority of his clients are from English-speaking countries (United Kingdom and Australia) and other Asian cities.

“However, during Chinese New Year, all my guests (from mainland China) automatically cancelled their bookings,” he said.

A representative from an established travel agency located in Bandar Seri Begawan also told the Bulletin that business has been “very much affected” since the coronavirus outbreak.

“We were supposed to have a group (from Brunei) leaving for mainland China, but all flights were cancelled,” she said. “We are now working with the airline authorities to either change flight dates or provide full refunds to our customers.”

Some cruise ships from Singapore to Brunei were also cancelled as a precaution.

Tour bus operators which often brought Chinese tourists on sightseeing rounds are also impacted by the current situation.

As of Wednesday, China’s Health Commission reported 74,185 infections. It also mentioned that the global death toll from the virus is at 2,009 so far, but at least 4,200 people have made recoveries.

Governments around the world have issued travel advisories and started to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, Hubei Province.

The Chinese authorities have also shut down travel into and out of Wuhan, and enacted similar strict transport restrictions in a number of other cities.