Brunei: more than just a stopover

Brunei’s tourism industry currently relies on stopover traffic heading to Australia and New Zealand, but numerous off-the-beaten-track options and substantial MICE facilities are opening up the country to greater things

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By  Joseph Mortimer Published  December 10, 2006

|~|Main-pic-large.gif|~|According to Brunei Tourism, Muslim holidaymakers will feel quite at home in Brunei, a country which boasts several cultural and religious heritage sites, including the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque (pictured).|~|Famed mainly for the wealth of its ruler, Brunei is a little known country located on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo that currently receives few tourist arrivals from the Middle East, except for passengers stopping over on their way to Australia and New Zealand. Apart from its small coastline, the entire country is bordered by the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which covers less than half of the island, the rest of which is part of Indonesia. For leisure travellers looking to truly explore Southeast Asia, Brunei’s proximity to Malaysia and Indonesia means that it can easily be combined with other destinations to form a multi-stop itinerary. More than 70% of Brunei’s total area is covered by rainforest where visitors can observe a wealth of plant and animal species unique to Borneo Island. Much of Brunei’s pristine rainforest is protected by government conservation projects. Some 32,000 hectares of rainforest have been transformed into forest reserves, while a further 50,000 hectares has been allocated for national parks. Ulu Temburong National Park and the Kuala Belalong Field Study Centre offer plenty of eco-tourism and adventure holiday options that are located near the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. Boat rides through the jungle, canopy walks and multi-day hikes are just some of the ways visitors can see the jungle when it is at its noisiest – sunrise and sunset. Out from under the forest canopy, Brunei’s coastline is blessed with colourful coral reefs and wrecks for keen divers, mangrove-covered islands, and unspoilt white sandy beaches. Until recently, Brunei Tourism has primarily focused its efforts on promoting the country in Australia and New Zealand, but according to Ayaz Hussain, key account manager, Royal Brunei Airlines, Dubai, 2007 should mark the beginning of a new phase in its marketing strategy. “We are working closely with Brunei Tourism, which is planning to become a bit more aggressive in tourism promotion over here. They don’t have any representation in Dubai at the moment, but travel agencies in Kuwait, Bahrain and Muscat are also selling packages that link up with Royal Brunei flights in Dubai,” he explains. “We are anticipating [an improvement in visitor numbers] when Brunei Tourism marches in with some big marketing campaigns. We intend to pick up some more movement compared to last year, especially from June to August.” Next year’s Arabian Travel Market will be a good opportunity for Royal Brunei to showcase more of what the tiny country has to offer. The airline will be participating in association with members of Brunei Tourism and the Empire Hotel and Country Club, he adds. The national carrier currently flies a Boeing 767 on its daily service from Dubai to Brunei, but according to Hussain, the airline will be expanding its fleet next year to include new Boeing 777s, opening up the possibility of launching new routes or increasing the number of services to Dubai and Jeddah. The stopover tourists who visit Brunei are normally breaking up the journey to or from Australia and New Zealand with a few days in Brunei, according to Hussain. Although Middle East business to Brunei is very minimal to date, it is expected to pick up when the country’s tourism industry pulls together and organises fam trips for travel agents across the region. Brunei is fully aware of the potential to develop the Middle East market, which currently provides just “a few hundred or so [visiors] per year”, according to Jean Christophe Robles Espinosa, director of marketing, Brunei Tourism. “Brunei is to the rainforest what Dubai is to the desert; a non-threatening version of an otherwise difficult environment,” he explains. “At present, we would recommend Brunei either as a curiosity two- or three-night add-on to Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand, especially for repeat visitors to these areas who want to further explore the region.” He says Brunei is ideal for families, honeymooners, elderly people and anyone who wants to experience pristine tropical nature “the easy way”. Together, Royal Brunei and Brunei Tourism are stepping-up their awareness campaigns, particularly in Dubai and Jeddah, because of the airline’s direct links to Brunei from these cities. Brunei Toursm has also teamed up with other foreign tourism boards in the past, including Tourism Australia, to host agents. A group of Dubai-based travel agents recently travelled with Royal Brunei on a fam trip to Australia, in association with Tourism Australia, which incorporated a two-night stopover in Brunei. “A lot of people commented that a trip of two days was too short, and that they would have liked to have spent a bit more time there and explored new avenues,” Hussain explains. “[The agents] said they found the place interesting and that it suits the Muslim culture in many ways; Halal food is readily available and there are lots of places to shop. As a result [of the fam trip], we are expecting the summer [traffic to Brunei] to pick up on last year.”||**||Golden opportunities|~|Kids-large.gif|~|Off the beaten track jungle adventures make Brunei a viable alternative to well trodden destinations in Southeast Asia.|~|Royal Brunei and BTB are hoping to host another trip this month, in association with the Malaysian Tourism Board, but nothing had been confirmed when ATN went to press. Royal Brunei’s leisure division, Golden Touch Holidays, has developed a series of stopover packages to appeal to different interest groups, including golf breaks, honeymoons, and MICE packages for this burgeoning market sector. There are also plenty of top-end accommodation options, including the Empire Hotel and Country Club, arguably Brunei’s best hotel. Famed throughout Southeast Asia as the location of the Brunei Open, as well as for its status as one of the best business and meetings hotels in the region, the Empire is truly an iconic property that justifies a trip to Brunei by its very presence. “Once you’re in the property you don’t feel like going out. People just chill out and it’s reasonably priced as well,” says Hussain. “I would say it’s much better than the Burj Al Arab.” The hotel boasts an internationally acclaimed golf course, wellness centre, and restaurants featuring cuisine from China, Italy and traditional Brunei food, which is typically similar to Malaysian food. The 423-room hotel has been awarded Brunei’s Best Hotel in the 13th Annual Travel Awards for the third year running, receiving acclaim for new developments including its MICE facilities. To date, the capital of Brunei has played host to MICE events including APEC meetings, the ASEAN Tourism Forum, and the South East Asia Games. Other hotels in Brunei with meetings facilities include the Sheraton Utama Hotel, Centrepoint Hotel and the Orchid Garden Hotel, all of which are located in the capital. According to Dk Kemariah Pg Hj Duraman, senior sales manager at the Sheraton Utama Hotel, Brunei’s inbound MICE tourism is still in its early stages. “Year-to-date we do not receive many guests from the Middle East market,” she says. The hotel itself is something of a landmark in Brunei; conveniently located within walking distance of many of Brunei’s attractions and a short distance from government offices, embassies and shopping areas. The hotel’s executive club was refurbished earlier this year, containing the presidential suite and the exclusive Signature City Club, a renowned meeting place for socialising, networking and entertaining corporate guests. The club is equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual and information technology equipment and has a private dining room. While the majority of guests who stay at the hotel are in transit to Australia or New Zealand, there is a strong business presence at the hotel, explains Duraman. “Most of our guests are corporate clients who are working closely with the Brunei government and corporate companies for IT projects, and oil and gas companies.” Thanks to the relative anonymity of Brunei most bookings are made through corporate travel agencies, rather than made direct, but the leisure market is beginning to pick up particularly from Dubai, she adds||**||THE SALES PITCH|~||~||~|GETTING THERE: Royal Brunei: from Dubai, daily; from Sharjah, every Tuesday; from Jeddah, twice weekly. VISAS: All Middle Eastern nationals must obtain visas from the nearest Brunei Darussalam mission, except for the following: passengers holding a valid passport from Iran, Oman or the UAE receive a 30 day visit visa upon arrival, and Qatar passport holders receive a 14 day visit visa upon arrival. Countries under the Schengen Agreement also receive a 90-day visit visa upon arrival. Check with the nearest Brunei consulate for further details. CURRENCY BND 1 = US $0.64 OFFERS Half-day city tour: drive past the Lapau, Sir Omar Ali Saiffudien Mosque and visit the Royal Regalia Building, Brunei Museum, the Royal Palace and take a short ride by water taxi to the water village, where local cakes and tea will be served in one of the houses. Priced from B$52 (US $33) per person and available from the Sheraton Utama Hotel. Golden Touch Holidays: prices for a two-night Discover Brunei tour, including accommodation at the Empire Hotel and Country Club, one lunch, one dinner, Brunei by Night tour, Bandar Splendour tour, and all transfers start at $264 per person, based on two people sharing. Prices for the Golf Package, including two nights’ accommodation at the Sheraton Utama Hotel, one 18-hole round at the Royal Golf and Country Club, one 18-hole round at the RBA golf club, green fees and buggy hire at both courses, return airport and golf course transfers, start from $269 per person, based on two people sharing. Non-golfing companions pay $128. Both packages exclude flights. Return economy-class flights on Royal Brunei from Dubai cost from AED 1675 ($456), excluding airport taxes and charges. THINGS TO DO Kampong Ayer (the water village). Visitors can take a water taxi from the pier to the network of houses on stilts, and bargain with the water taxi drivers on the price of the ride before setting off. It should cost around B$20 to $25 ($13 to $16). Passengers can also carry on up the river towards the Istana Nurul Iman, the largest residential palace in the world. Ulu Temburong is the gateway to the rainforest, where visitors can discover the remote Temburong jungle and mangrove islands, hike along wooden walkways watch wildlife from high platforms above the rainforest canopy, raft white water rivers, swim in remote jungle pools and dive on coral-covered wrecks on a rainforest wildlife tour. The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque sits majestically in a tranquil man-made lagoon. Tourists should wear appropriate clothing when visiting the mosque and all visitors must remove their shoes prior to entering. The Royal Regalia Museum is home to a collection of Royal Regalia, including jewel crowns used during His Majesty’s coronation, the Royal Chariot, gold and silver ceremonial armoury, a replica of the royal throne and a fully documented history of the constitution of Negara Brunei Darussalam. Kompleks Banguan Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, affectionately called “Yayasan” by locals, is one of the biggest shopping complexes in Brunei and houses a variety of shops including a one-stop department store, Hua Ho. Brunei History Centre was established in 1982 to undertake research into the history of Brunei Darussalam. Among the areas of special interests are the genealogy and history of the Sultans of Brunei and the Royal Family. Kianggeh Open Market or Tamu Kianggeh as it is known to locals, is a colourful open-air market offering a variety of fresh produce and homemade handicraft. Jerudong Park is a world-class recreation and sports facilities comprising the Disneyland-style Jerudong Park Playground, the exclusive Royal Brunei Golf & Country Club, the luxurious Jerudong Park Polo Club and the exciting Trijaya Jerudong Equestrian Park. The Parliament House and Royal Ceremonial Building or Lapau and Dewan Majlis, comprise a sprawling complex featuring a blend of Malay and Western architecture,where His Majesty The Sultan and Yang Di Pertuan was crowned on August 1, 1968, as the 29th ruler of Negara Brunei Darussalam. ||**||

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