Temburong District in Brunei Darussalam prepares for influx of visitors after bridge construction

With construction of Temburong Bridge expected to be completed by the end of 2019, the Temburong District is readying itself for its first physical link to the rest of Brunei Darussalam. When operational, the bridge is expected to bring to an end the long-standing transport and bureaucratic hindrances that made travel to the district difficult and time-consuming. With the amelioration of these issues, a boost in tourist arrivals to Temburong is another potential benefit of the bridge. With this in mind, officials are planning to make the most of the area’s tourism potential, while also ensuring that the treasures that make Temburong a sought-after destination are preserved.

Safeguarding Assets

To secure the Temburong District’s reputation as the “Green Jewel of Brunei”, protecting the area’s abundant natural resources is key. The most important of these assets is the Ulu Temburong National Park, which hosts many diverse ecosystems and to which access will be much improved upon completion of the bridge. Protecting the pristine environment of the park will therefore be a top priority as more tourists visit the area.

With this in mind, as far back as 2010, Brunei Darussalam’s Town and Country Planning Department completed the Temburong District Plan 2006-25. The strategy presents a framework for the development of the Temburong District that encompasses not only the new bridge, but also a new university, commercial and industrial centres, housing, schools, flood prevention projects and public facilities.

The need for sustainable development was underlined in remarks made by Mohammed Lutfi bin Haji Abdullah, permanent secretary of administration and finance at the Ministry of Defence, during the launch of the Temburong District Plan Roadshow in 2014. “In the rally to develop the district, I would like to call out to stakeholders to be more sensitive in developing the Temburong District, seeing that Temburong is indeed rich in natural resources,” the permanent secretary said. The secretary went on to urge policymakers to include precautionary measures in the district’s development plans to preserve the area’s natural assets, adding that the relevant agencies should ensure that development does not affect Temburong’s sensitive ecosystems.

These natural assets extend to the region’s human resources, with the district’s rural entrepreneurs eager to provide their skills and services to boost the Sultanate’s tourism sector by contributing to the “One Village, One Product” (OVOP) initiative. This currently includes more than 162 products and services, such as tour packages, homestays and local handicrafts that visitors can take home as souvenirs.

Privatisation

Plans for the district’s tourism sector seem to be unfolding as intended, and in March 2016 the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) announced it was opening up new offices in Temburong as part of efforts to develop tourism in the region, although a specific timeline was not given.

However, uncertainties remain about which assets the district’s tourism plan will focus on. During the 12th Legislative Council (LegCo) session of March 2016, the sole LegCo member for Temburong, Sulaiman Haji Ahad, questioned the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation regarding the status of Batang Duri Park in Temburong.

The park has been closed to the public for several years and was the jumping-off point for tours of Ulu Temburong National Park. “This park should have its own budget, as it is a potential tourist destination for visitors inside and outside of the country,” Sulaiman said, going on to propose that the management of the park should be handed to the private sector in order to strengthen public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the district.

The first PPP between the government of Brunei Darussalam and a private tour company, Sunshine Borneo Tours and Travel, was struck in 2008, when the Ulu Ulu Resort in Ulu Temburong National Park was privatised, having been under the remit of the Forestry Department. The PPP was seen as a major step for Brunei Darussalam’s tourism sector.

Impact On Limbang

Although Temburong residents and tourism operators alike have reason to celebrate the opening of their district to more inbound tourist traffic, their Malaysian neighbours in the Limbang District of the state of Sarawak have expressed some distress at the prospect of receiving fewer visitors to their area due to the forthcoming bridge.

These concerns centre around the prospect of travellers to Temburong from the western districts of Brunei Darussalam being able to bypass Limbang, with fears that a drop in inbound traffic will result in a decline in business activity. In 2015 arrivals into Sarawak from the Sultanate reached 1.6m, making the Sultanate one of the largest contributors to visitor arrivals to the state. Limbang’s hospitality, dining, recreation and tourism businesses would be most affected by any drop-off, while overall business activity in the district could plummet by 40%, Limbang Chinese Chamber of Commerce chairman Lim Chwee Cheng warned in February 2015.

It is, however, in the Sultanate’s best interests to ensure that visitors continue to visit this part of Malaysia because of the country’s adoption of the two-step approach to tourism – whereby visits to Brunei Darussalam are packaged with visits to Malaysia.

Regional Cooperation

With an eye toward joining forces to attract more tourists to the island, the Brunei-Sarawak Joint Tourism Working Group was established in 2015 to encourage greater collaboration in tourism-related development between the Sultanate and the Malaysian state. The group performs joint marketing and promotion, while also working to enhance accessibility and connectivity between the two destinations and establish safe and secure border checkpoints.

Brunei Darussalam and Sabah have also collaborated in the past to promote tourism to the island with events such as the Borneo Bird Race. Many tourists also make the Sultanate a stop on their way to or from other festivals held on Borneo, such as Borneo Jazz, the Rainforest World Music Festival, Borneo World Music Expo and Asia Music Festival.

Efforts to strengthen the tourism industry throughout the region are facilitated, promoted and marketed through activities carried out by the Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and the East Asia Inter-Regional Tourism Forum alliances. BIMP-EAGA’s Equator Asia tourism initiative is also dedicated to promoting the BIMP-EAGA region as an ecotourism destination. As a partner in these projects, the Sultanate is proving that even as it works to bridge its own territories, it is also willing to collaborate with its neighbours to develop sustainable tourism regionally.

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The Report: Brunei Darussalam 2016

Tourism & Culture chapter from The Report: Brunei Darussalam 2016

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