Tourism is the world’s number one industry today. It contributes 11% to the world’s GDP, while around 11% of the world’s population is involved in the trade.
The workforce is projected to increase 70% by the year 2205, to 350 million, from the present figure of 204 million.
The world’s Gross Output from the industry is expected to increase 170% in a decade, i.e. from US$3.5 trillion in 1994, to US$8 trillion in the year 2005. The Asia-Pacific region is projected to lead in the tourism industry by that time.
Such detailed figures came from a man entrusted to turn Brunei into a serious player in world tourism.
There is no reason why that goal cannot be achieved, said Sheikh Jamaluddin bin Sheikh Mohamed, the Head of the Tourism Unit, an agency under the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources; there are enough attractions in Brunei to satisfy even the most discerning of visitors.
In his Strategic Overview of the tourism venture, Sheikh Jamaluddin aims to promote Brunei as a "premium, ultimate eco-tourism destination; unpolluted, safe, friendly and a good place to relax." That Brunei is a "mystical place, rich in culture and tradition."
In That Master Plan, Brunei attractions will also be highlighted- Kampung Ayer, the Jerudong Park, the rain forest environment, the rustic villages etc.
The aim is to create a favourable national image as well as international awareness of the country as a holiday destination. It will not be touted as a place for mass tourism, however, as Sheikh Jamaluddin puts it, "Brunei is small, and small is beautiful."
Selected target markets of such promotions drives, initially are ASEAN, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Tourism is a big business in neighbouring countries. Singapore for instance, earns about US$10 billion a year in revenue from its tourist industry.
Malaysia on the other hand earns about US$750 million annually from shopping tourists.
In many countries in the region, tourism ranks high among the major contributors to their economy.
Brunei is a country with a long and interesting history, traditions and customs that date back a few hundred years, and pageants and ceremonies unlike any where else in the world, said Sheikh Jamaluddin. It has the potential to develop into a prominent destination through its attractions, activities, warm and friendly people, and a favourable situation of proximity to regional tourist hubs.
It has places that will fascinate and enthral visitors, and lure them back for more.
There is nothing more that can be said about the Kampung Ayer or the Jerudong Park that many people do not know, but what about the Ulu Temburong National Park or Brunei’s rustic inland villages, far from the urban areas?
The Ulu Temburong National Park is 5 thousand hectares of sheer natural delight, set in an area of lush rain forest and majestic river as a backdrop, close to a disused coal mine, and a village where the traditional way of life is still practised. Adventurous activities are found here, as well as facilities for study, research, accommodation and utilities.
Rustic outlying villages, with their old-world charm, are scattered throughout the country, alongside roads, where one can journey through and still savour the atmosphere of times long past.
Stop at one of the stalls selling local fruits, or drop in the quaint little "kedai makan" [restaurants] for refreshments , and reacquaint yourself to life so simple, so laid back.
Arrange with travel agents here for excursions to local places of interest, or stimulating activities such as sports fishing, scuba-diving, even river safaris.
Make a trip to Pulau Selirong] Park, for a closer look at the environment, and life in the mangrove swamp.
There are many problems hindering the full development of the tourism industry here in Brunei, Sheikh Jamaluddin noted. The lack of awareness by potential visitors regarding the attractions in Brunei is one; poor public transportation system, and an underdeveloped general infrastructure are also contributory factors.
And then there is no almost no involvement in the industry at grassroots level, plus the lack of co-ordination between government agencies in undertaking the venture.
Yet, the whole country stands to benefit from a full-fledged tourist industry, Sheikh Jamaluddin continued.
The public for instance, would benefit from an improved quality of life, and a general good image of the country overseas; they would also gain from an improved infrastructure and utilities that come together with the industry, better job prospects, and environmental preservation.
The private sector, on the other hand, stands to gain from a growing economy, and the need for more tourist-care enterprises.
As for the government, they would gain from an improved economy overall. They would also benefit from a rise in revenue due to foreign exchange and taxes.
Direct foreign investments would also come hand-in-hand with an established tourism industry, thus benefiting the government and the country even more.
However, measures are underway to redress the shortcomings that plague the local situation.
Massive infrastructure development programme are in place throughout the country, while the public transportation is being vastly improved.
New hotels are coming up to meet increasing demands, and the telecommunication services are getting better all the time.
More villages, especially those in Kampung Ayer, are being studied as potential places of tourist interest, involving a co-ordinated effort between village headmen, the government and the private sector.
Plans are underfoot to formulate training programmes, for locals in tourist-care, which is a joint-enterprise of the Tourism Unit and various agencies concerned.
And 1999 has been designated as the "Visit Brunei Year" which should put Brunei in the limelight, and bring in the tourist.
A tourist promotion board, set along the lines of the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board [STPB], should come into effort very soon, according to Sheikh Jamaluddin.
But Brunei is just too small, in population and size, to promote itself specifically, as a single entity, Sheikh Jamaluddin continued.
That is why Brunei called for a promotion of the Borneo Island as a whole, and the region itself specifically, as a single destination, with Brunei as its gateway. The Brunei government has a 3-point strategy in its promotional drive:-
a. Promote Brunei
as an entry separate from other [foreign] provinces
b. include Sabah and Sarawak in that promotional venture;
c. then, promote the BIMP-EAGA region as a whole, with Brunei as the hub or gateway.
As a measure of this
policy, during the 2nd Joint Commission meeting in July 1996, Brunei and
Malaysia agreed to promote the island of Borneo as a single destination.
In October of the same year, Brunei tourism officials met their counterparts from Sabah and Sarawak to work out the details of the venture.
The philosophy adopted by the Brunei government in its approach is, " not to compete, but to complement and add value to the region."
It is Sheikh Jamaluddin’s vision to see "Brunei as a unique tourist destination and gateway to tourism, excellence in South East Asia."
He described his challenges of enchancing Brunei’s "image and attractiveness as a travel and tourism destination"; "to increase the contribution of travel and tourism to Bru8nei’s economy"; "and to make tomorrow better than today for Negara Brunei Darussalam."
Brunei is central not just within the BIMP-EAGA, but within South East Asia as well. Such advantageous situations not only make it accessible from established tourist centres in the region, but also make such places reachable from Brunei - meaning visitors to the country can make short stopovers to those places in Brunei, and vice-versa.
At present, Brunei is getting around 400 thousand visitors a year, a figure Sheikh Jamaluddin hopes to increase to 1 million in the year 2000.
"It is a realistic projection," he said. As people overseas get more aware of Brunei and its allure, the desire to "try" the country out will form within them, and it is this desire that Sheikh Jamaluddin hopes to tap to its fullest potential.
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of tourists to the country from Europe and beyond, while tourists from the region are expected to holiday in countries nearer home rather than make expensive trips to the West and Pacific areas. All these abode well for Brunei and its fledging tourism industry.
"At present, we are still a bit short of accommodation facilities to cater to that number, but that problem will be rectified in the coming months, Sheikh Jamaluddin said confidently.
The new Jerudong Resort Hotel should add a few more hundred to Brunei’s present capacity of around 120 [hotel] rooms, and recently, a cheap rate hostel opened in Kampung Sungai Buloh to cater to budget travellers.
will only begin after everything- the infrastructure, the accommodation
facilities, the manpower required, other tourist-care services, etc. -is
already in place, said Sheikh Jamaluddin.
And with him at helm, it I not difficult to see why Brunei will, one day, become the ultimate destination as he envisions.