Interview: Mariani Haji Sabtu

What are your priorities for developing the tourism industry in your role as head of the TDD?

MARIANI HAJI SABTU: Our department completed its Tourism Master Plan (TMP) in 2011, identifying nature and Islamic heritage as two major growth clusters. These are further supported by secondary product offerings and the optimisation of current products.

The TMP puts forward 25 initiatives and 69 projects to be implemented, of which more than 60% are to be driven by agencies and parties other than the TDD. My current priority is the implementation of the TMP through enhanced cooperation and coordination with the other stakeholders. This includes greater participation by the public and the local community.

Additionally, the internet is fast becoming the best tool for reaching out directly to travel consumers. In regards to marketing and promotion, the TDD will work closely with the Marketing and Promotion Centre of the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources to develop a more concerted effort towards internet marketing, such as the creation of e-brochures and enhancing the use of social networks and our website.

As it is not attempting to attract mass tourism, how can the Sultanate increase the value or expenditure of the niche tourists it attracts?

MARIANI: Brunei Darussalam will focus on family-oriented, education and knowledge-related tourism, leveraging our pristine nature and rich Islamic heritage. Thus, we at TDD are developing products and offerings along this line. One of the most recent examples was the November 2012 launch of the Islamic Tourism Packages at the Islamic Cultural Centre in London. A partnership with Tourism Malaysia and the Islamic Tourism Centre in Malaysia, the package aims to promote Islamic tourism to the UK and European markets.

Our approach is a focused tourism development and marketing agenda, with specific product offerings that target clientele looking to experience our pristine nature and rich culture in a safe and peaceful ambiance.

Cruise ship tourism has been on the rise in the region. How is Brunei Darussalam aiming to capitalise on this trend, and what infrastructure upgrades are needed to accommodate it?

MARIANI: Brunei Darussalam has worked within the ASEAN tourism framework to capitalise on the rising trend of cruise tourism. Our current port facilities are adequate for the size requirements of cruise ships. Only minor adjustments, currently being undertaken by the Ports Department, are needed to cater to this segment However, aside from the enhancement of port facilities, we also need to upgrade and prepare our surrounding towns, namely Pekan Muara, to cater to tourists from these cruises who do not wish to go on excursions and tours. This calls for increased investment into activities such as restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. On top of this, we will need to work closely with other transportation services, such as the local taxi association, to provide quality services for cruise passengers not joining the packaged tours provided.

As of now, our ground handlers are ready with daytrip excursion programmes to areas of interest such as the Matan Homestay, museums, tours of Kampong Ayer and Bandar Seri Begawan. All of these destinations are within a few minutes to an hour travelling time.

What impact will the upcoming ASEAN summit have on the country’s reputation as a Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) destination? How many visitors are you predicting for 2013?

MARIANI: One has to understand that the upcoming ASEAN summit is a government-organised series of meetings. We are expecting some 3000 participants to congregate in the country throughout the year and are confident with the facilities and capabilities of our venue host, the Empire Hotel and Country Club.

For MICE in its strictest definition, the capacity of private sector players – those that provide services such as event organisation, transport, logistics and ground handling services – need to be further strengthened.