The meetings, incentives, conference and exhibitions (MICE) segment of Brunei Darussalam’s tourism market represents an important area of potential growth. While the Sultanate’s facilities are relatively limited when compared to those offered by major MICE destinations, such as Singapore, they are still suitable for smaller conferences where a quieter and more secure environment may be a key selling point.
FACILITIES: The largest event space in the country is the International Convention Centre (ICC), located about a five-minute drive from both the Brunei International Airport and Bandar Seri Begawan’s commercial centre. The ICC has hosted a number of events, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference in 2000 and the ASEAN Tourism Forum in 2001, as well as a number of smaller business conferences and meetings. Some hotels are also able to offer event space, most notably the Empire Hotel and Country Club. In 2012 the resort hosted the Amway Korea Leadership Summit, which accounted for 2400 room nights. This was the third time that the Empire was the location for this incentives event, having previously hosted the company in 2005 and 2007. However, most of the hotel’s conference business – about 70% – comes from the domestic market, according to its public relations and marketing communications manager, Hafiza Mohamad. This is consistent with the fact that only a small share of international air arrivals (less than 1%) in 2011 identified the purpose of their trip as exhibitions. A likely explanation for Brunei Darussalam’s limited success in attracting major international events is the relatively small size of its hotel capacity, with a total of 3029 rooms and 3845 beds as of 2011. Only the Centrepoint Hotel and the Empire have the means to accommodate more than 200 people, with 304 and 538 beds, respectively. For this reason alone, the Sultanate would have difficulty attracting the larger global conferences. Brunei Darussalam may be well served by emphasising the benefits of holding an event in a smaller market, including the fact that Bandar Seri Begawan is a largely hassle-free and verdant city. Moreover, it offers nearby access to a number of ecotourism offerings, such as one-day excursions into the rainforest. These assets can be important to event organisers who are keen to ensure that attendees have access to leisure activities.
SPORTS & LEISURE: Attracting meetings and conferences is just one part of the equation, with sports and leisure events an alternative source of demand. Indeed, the Sultanate grabbed the spotlight in 2012 with the return of the Royal Trophy to its shores in December. The Asian equivalent of the Ryder Cup, the Royal Trophy is one part of a triumvirate of golfing events that also includes the Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters and the Brunei Open-Asian Tour. In 2012, however, the longstanding Royal Trophy event reportedly experienced difficulties in attracting international attention, sponsorship and even guests. The Brunei Tourism Board also acknowledged no commitment has been made to host the event in 2013 and Royal Brunei has reportedly cut the number of event-dedicated charter flights.
Another sporting event, the Brunei Bike Week, is a three-day annual festival that was launched in 2011 and attracts about 30,000-40,000 participants. Its organisers have said that they hope to emulate the success of events such as the Pataya Bike Week in Thailand, which has attracted up to 200,000 visitors.
HERITAGE: Other events are centred on Islamic themes, given Brunei Darussalam’s history and culture. Islamicthemed events remain popular and are expected to have a larger draw from 2013-15 onwards with the November 2012 launch of the Brunei-Malaysia Islamic Tourism Package in collaboration with Tourism Malaysia. Additionally, the annual birthday celebrations of the Sultan, which take place in July, remain a calendar highlight.
Taking advantage of the unique historical characteristics of the country will be a key factor in attracting both corporate and leisure events business. Although able to attract smaller events, the Sultanate will face challenges in accommodating larger, international-calibre events without further development of facilities.
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