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The ups, downs of Brunei tourism
DR ARNO MAIERBRUGGER
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
MANY thoughts have been given as to how Brunei can attract more tourists to its small territory, which with no doubt boasts attractive tourist spots, but, on the other hand, is struggling with problems of its relative remoteness and its action-free environment.
The World Tourism Organisation of the United Nations in its latest tourism ranking has shown that tourism numbers to Brunei dropped 13.6 per cent to 209,000 in 2012. Brunei was the only country in ASEAN that experienced a decline in visitors, and its overall share of tourism within ASEAN shrunk to just 0.1 per cent.
It is not that Brunei has set tourism development on its top agenda, and it is also not necessary to boost tourism as a foreign exchange earner. But, tourism numbers are more than just a cold metric. Brunei could use tourism to present itself to the outer world in a way that it gets visible.
One way to do that would be to push Brunei more as a "special" stopover destination and point out its uniqueness. In fact, there rarely is a stopover destination quite like Brunei, a nation that combines strong Islamic traditions with Asian culture.
In addition to national airline Royal Brunei, there is actually are a number of regional airlines such as Thai Airways, Garuda or Singapore Airlines flying regularly to Brunei on their way to other destinations in Asia Pacific. On a stopover, short-time tourist can easily take a few days to explore the Sultanate with its wealth of nature and architecture.
A short stay of two days could include a day of exploration in the city and another in the rainforest. As opposed to other capitals in the region, Bandar Seri Begawan has no traffic jams, no smog and a quite laid-back lifestyle. It is safe, clean and easy to wander through.
Thus, the Sultanate could capitalise on its "uniqueness", tell potential visitors that there is no other country like it and make them curious.
Because, on the downside, people with less need for a calming surrounding and with greater adventurous spirit might quickly find it boring in Brunei. Those in search of vibrant nightlife will probably want to skip Brunei as this is a dry country and even smoking is widely banned, including shisha.
Brunei is quite expensive by Southeast Asian standards and the costs of tourism are roughly the same as in Singapore, but what's on the touristic menu can by no means be compared to Singapore. There is little cultural diversity in the country compared to surrounding Malaysia, and, last but not least, there are even reservations by some Bruneian officials not to open the country to too many tourists considering the downsides of "mass tourism" and fearing to dilute Brunei's uniqueness.
This dilemma is difficult to resolve and will cause those responsible for tourism one or two more headaches in the future.
The Brunei Times
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