On a recent visit to Bahrain and Dubai, Sheikh Jamaluddin, the chief executive officer of Brunei Tourism Board, said there was a lot of interest in Brunei from tour operators, travel agents and PR representatives.
"We are working hard to quietly bring in the Arab tourists who like to travel during the summer. Brunei can be an addition to the Malaysian market. There is not much issue on alcohol and the Arabs like to bring their families to enjoy a clean, fun and leisure experience," he said.
After September 11, Arab tourists are eyeing South East Asian countries due to the similarities in culture and way of life. Since Brunei is a Muslim country, tourists from the Middle East can enjoy familiar cuisine and a lifestyle which is in tune with their religious beliefs.
Cynthia Bong, the general manager of Brunei Hotel, told OBG, "We have quite a lot to offer in terms of infrastructure and places of interest and these are all free of charge. Bruneians are very friendly people and for young families with children, it is a very safe country."
The Brunei Tourism Board is hoping to enter into joint promotions with Malaysia by including Brunei in package tours and holidays.
"One way to expose Brunei is to appoint local Bruneian representatives overseas who can market our country to tourists. Most people do not know about Brunei so we need to get out there and tell them," said Bong. "I feel that due to the lack of awareness, people are more inclined to visit Sabah and Borneo and hospitality institutions in these places are enjoying 100% occupancy. We need to target tourists from all over, such as Australia and the United Kingdom as well as the Middle East," she added.
Brunei's high-end Empire Hotel is also taking steps to encourage tourism into the country. The hotel recently organised a familiarisation visit in conjunction with Royal Brunei Airlines for top travel agencies from the United Kingdom including Travelmood, Trailfinders, STA, Austravel and Wexas International. The Brunei Tourism Board has arranged some 40 familiarisation trips similar to this throughout 2007.
Abdul Hapidz Laksamana, the chairman of Abdul Razak Holdings (ARH), told OBG, "the hospitality industry in Brunei has the capacity to welcome tourists. They have a lot of choice because we have such a good selection of hotels, from affordable hotels to our 6- star Empire Hotel.'
AHR is one of the largest property developers in Brunei Darussalam, owning a number of hotels in the vibrant district of Gadong as well as serviced apartments and one of Brunei's largest shopping malls.
However, these hotels are finding it difficult to boost occupancy rates. "The problem we are facing at the moment is that we have too many empty rooms. A lot of hotels are operating at 50% occupancy", said Bong to OBG.
Another concern facing the industry is the lack of interest in the hospitality business. As the government sector remains the most popular employer for Bruneians, relatively few locals look for a career in hospitality and catering.
"We also need to encourage Bruneians to work in the hospitality industry because at the moment most of the employees are from overseas. We need to promote the industry nationally as well as internationally," acknowledged Bong.
Speaking on sustainable tourism, Sheikh Jamaluddin said, "I want them to understand the importance of tourism, as people still perceive tourism in a negative way like having social problems. The tourism industry contributes some 1.8% of the country's gross domestic product with tourism receipts mounting to $315m and offers some 5000 jobs directly."