As the world’s only Malay Islamic Monarchy, Brunei Darussalam is in a unique position to promote a sharia-compliant Islamic heritage tourism product attractive to observant Muslim families and others. Such a promotion would be a favourable strategy in the country’s efforts to expand its tourism sector and diversify the economy. Spending on travel and hospitality by Muslim travellers is expected to reach $200bn worldwide by 2020, according to the MasterCard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2015, so there is an opportunity for the Sultanate to capture a slice of this market.
Adherence to sharia law will prove to be an attractive marketing tool for building Brunei Darussalam’s Islamic tourism market. Brunei Darussalam was rated number 10 on the 2015 GMTI Top-10 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) destinations. The GMTI furnishes halal-friendly travel scores that track the health and growth of 100 destinations in order to assist Muslim visitors in their choice of holiday destination. The Sultanate scored marks of between 90 and 100 on GMTI benchmark criteria such as destination safety and dining options.
Need For Preservation
However, a recent UN World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) study pointed out that although Asia is rich in Islamic heritage sites important to Muslims, in many cases its monuments, parks and museums are not being adequately preserved or maintained. Such preservation is essential in order to reap the full potential of Islamic tourism, according to the UNWTO study, which also made recommendations for the improvement of the provision of facilities and services for the development of the Islamic tourism industry.
Central to the mission to preserve Islamic heritage in Brunei Darussalam is the upcoming Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Islamic Exhibition Gallery (BPIS). When completed in 2017, the BN$120m ($85.4m) gallery will house up to 1000 Islamic manuscripts along with hundreds of artefacts. The BPIS will provide a safe space in which to preserve and showcase the valuable exhibits, and will also act as an archive where scholars may conduct research on Islamic history and culture.
The growth of Islamic tourism presents Brunei Darussalam with a huge opportunity to promote Islam and improve its image around the world. This opportunity is bolstered by a major shift occurring in the travel industry, with more Muslims travelling to other Islamic countries, according to the UNWTO study. Indeed, promoting intra-Islamic travel is one of the OIC’s top priorities, and Brunei Darussalam has major potential to capture this burgeoning travel segment.
The Sultanate could also market itself as an attractive destination for tourists during Ramadan and for Muslims making the pilgrimage to Makkah for Hajj. “For instance, for people who are going to Umrah, we can make Brunei Darussalam a stopover for the congregates to learn about Umrah before leaving for Makkah,” Dato Ali Apong, minister of primary resources and tourism, told media in November 2015. “Maybe one day, people will enjoy going to Brunei Darussalam in Ramadan for fasting and for Terawih [recitation of the Quran], so that the tourists can immerse themselves in our rich Islamic culture.”
Information & Accessibility
In order to build sustainably on the Sultanate’s Islamic tourism products and offerings, work needs to be done to ensure they are accessible, safe, clean, comfortable and reliable, Dato Ali said recently. Ensuring visitors have easy access to information about the Sultanate’s Islamic tourism products is one of the foremost priorities of tourism operators. Working toward this goal, the Brunei Islamic Tourism and Grand Mosques app gives visitors accessible, on-the-go information on the country’s Islamic heritage, depictions of the most notable grand mosques, a halal food guide and tips on other sites, museums, accommodation and transport.