The South-east Asia Special: Brunei

Brunei’s destination specialists face numerous hurdles in their quest for inbound business events, but they are not giving up.

Ulu Temburong National Park was the first national park to be established in Brunei

The business events segment is still very new to the Sultanate, and getting it off the ground will require destination specialists to overcome several hurdles.

An inbound agent who wished to remain anonymous lamented that convincing organisers to hold their event in Brunei is not easy, as the local currency is strong. At the same time, delegates have to adhere to the laws of land, which prohibit alcohol consumption, even at private gatherings. Furthermore, the lack of night entertainment, shopping, world-class attractions and theme parks of international standard also makes it difficult to pitch Brunei as an incentive destination.

Ulu Temburong National Park (pictured) was the first national park to be established in Brunei

So challenging is Brunei for MICE that even domestic companies head overseas for their incentive programmes, noted the agent.

However, inbound agents have found ways to circumnavigate these hurdles.

Khirul Zainie, managing director of MegaBorneo Tour Planner, shared that since it is difficult to sell Brunei as a mono destination for business events due to the lack of attractions, his company combines Brunei with the two Malaysian states on Borneo Island – Sabah and Sarawak – and/or with Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion on the island of Borneo.

He added: “We have marketing representatives in Poland and the Czech Republic who help us market Borneo Island as an incentive destination to Eastern European business event organisers.

“There has been so much negative news about Brunei in media reports, that it has also created curiosity among longhaul markets in Eastern Europe. People are curious enough, and are willing to include Brunei in their business events programme to experience the destination for themselves.”

Khirul said the orangutans are a highlight, with delegates eager to not only see the primates but also be involved in related corporate social responsibility programmes, such as learning about the challenges of orangutan rehabilitation into the wild and work done at the sanctuaries.

“The island of Borneo also has many tribes and live a different lifestyle from that of the West. Business event delegates from the West find this fascinating and are keen on visiting the Iban longhouses in Brunei and the multi tribal experiences of Borneo,” he said.

Caroline Ang, executive director of Bonasia Holiday, who targets the Chinese market, said her pitch focuses on Brunei’s pristine rainforests and its nature-based attractions.
Ang shared that Chinese incentive groups to Brunei are usually from small and medium-sized enterprises, with no more than 100 participants.

“When we pitch Brunei as a destination, we have to be creative as we are competing with other destinations on price. We have to throw in value-adds,” she said, adding that more inter-governmental support is needed for Brunei to grow its business events potential.

Khirul opined that Brunei could tap the large Muslim travel market for MICE.

“The Muslim market is growing around the world and we cannot ignore it. We should tap this segment by targeting Muslim majority countries such as Bangladesh. We have had a few high-end groups from Bangladesh in the past, and I see the potential for further growth,” he said.

For Mohd Iswandi Maaruf, director of operations with Mulia Hotel, the formation of an active convention bureau is imperative for Brunei. The bureau needs to go out, and promote the destination and bid for international events, as well as educate and train local players.

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