Tourism adapts to new challenges

Rokiah Mahmud

With a mission towards sustainable growth in the number of tourists coming to Brunei Darussalam that could contribute greatly to the country’s economy, various efforts and initiatives have been undertaken by the Tourism Development Department at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) as well as travel and tour companies.

Despite the significant efforts to boost the industry, the outbreak of COVID-19 has badly impacted the tourism industry, not only in Brunei Darussalam but also the world in general.

In 2020, the tourism industry was expected to face a decline of over 70 per cent as the world battled the health pandemic while thinking of ways in finding the remedies.

Tourism suffered further after the announcement of travel bans and restrictions aimed to address the pandemic spread, though it eventually contributed towards economic downturn in all services offered in tourism sectors.

In the recent 24th Meeting of ASEAN Tourism Ministers, 20th Meeting of ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan and Republic of Korea) Tourism Ministers along with the 8th Meeting of ASEAN-India Tourism Ministers, it was shared that the tourism industry is one of the hardest hit sectors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The opening of the Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Bridge, connecting the Brunei-Muara District and Temburong District, has opened a door of opportunity to boost domestic tourism. PHOTO: BAHYIAH BAKIR

The meetings highlighted that the tourism industry has suffered a loss of approximately 30 per cent in tourism receipts, international arrivals has been declined of about 72 per cent, hotel room occupancy is at its lowest and travel and tourism industry had also experience massive cancellation in 2020.

At the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, with the announcement of travel ban, limiting the movement of people travelling abroad or not allowing tourists to come into the Sultanate except for essential travel further affected the economy in tourism sectors. This saw stagnation and further declining of income especially when the country was at the height of its local cases from March to May 2020. Many of those in the tourism sector, especially travel agents, suffered as many tour packages were cancelled and tourism activities were halted. This situation left them with no option but to wait and hope that the global pandemic will be over soon enough.

However, the dark skies started to give way to light as positive local cases have not been recorded since May 2020. With this encouraging development, the local tourism industry started to gain fresh new hope and proceeded to put on several initiatives and efforts to boost the tourism industry, by promoting staycation activities and local-based activities that focus on domestic tourism.

Amid the hardships in surviving in the tourism industry, several de-escalation phases have been announced via national news and print media regarding the lifting of several bans and restrictions on mass gatherings. Even though travelling abroad is prohibited, travel and tour companies in the Sultanate have adapted with new norms, with the hopes of being able to overcome financial difficulties. These companies have thus been carrying out efforts and initiatives focussing more on packages that enhance domestic-based destinations.

The opening of the Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Bridge, connecting the Brunei-Muara District and Temburong District, has opened a door of opportunity to boost domestic tourism. Such efforts taken by the government allow people from the Brunei-Muara, Tutong and Belait districts to be able to travel and visit Temburong, while also enabling Temburong residents to travel to the other districts.

The bridge has also provided opportunities for the locals, residents and expatriates in Brunei Darussalam to escape from their hectic duties to travel locally.

With such efforts and initiatives, more local attractions have been discovered, as can be seen with the opening of more hiking trails and waterfalls as well as items under the One Village, One Product initiative, while cultural activities, natural and eco-tourism packages have also been formulated.

The overseas travel ban has resulted in many locals as well as foreign nationals residing in the country starting to like the packages that offer new destinations within the country that even many locals have yet to explore. The trials have proved a success, as many travel and tour companies received bulk bookings from patrons, especially with their families, friends and business associates.