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HomeColumnsInterviewsPehin Dato Haji Yahya (Minister of Tourism, Brunei): Brunei's tourism development aligning well with ASEAN

Pehin Dato Haji Yahya (Minister of Tourism, Brunei): Brunei's tourism development aligning well with ASEAN

Based on the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report on Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2013- the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Brunei’s GDP was BND 370.1 million (1.8% of total GDP), while the total contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was BND 1,217.8 million (5.8% of GDP) in 2012.

– Minister, Brunei Darussalam statistics suggest levelling of international tourist arrivals over the last couple of years. How is this performance viewed by your Ministry? Could you elaborate a bit on the role of tourism in the economy of Brunei?

Pehin Dato Haji Yahya: Total international arrivals over the past 7 years (2007-2013) show a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.26% with overland arrivals contributing 92% of total arrivals; air arrivals 7%; and cruisers 1%, only. Major source markets are ASEAN countries accounting for 54% of total arrivals, and a Year-on-Year growth of 6.7%; followed by Far East markets (China, Korea and Japan), adding 19% with 5.2% growth; Europe, 10% with 9.4% growth and Australia/New Zealand, 7% with 14.7% growth. Even though the performance has been quite decent in terms of the total number of arrivals and tourism growth (CARG of 3.1%, 2007 – 2012), what we want to aim at is increased spending and tourist receipts that can have a substantive impact on the overall economy of the country.

Based on the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report on Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2013- the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Brunei’s GDP was BND 370.1 million (1.8% of total GDP), while the total contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was BND 1,217.8 million (5.8% of GDP) in 2012.

Unlike a few other ASEAN member countries, Brunei Darussalam doesn’t view tourism its main economic driver; however the tourism sector is identified as one of the main sectors supporting and maintaining a healthy employment environment for the local workforce and economy. In 2012 Travel & Tourism directly supported 5,500 jobs (2.6% of total employment), remaining unchanged the year thereafter. The total contribution of Travel & Tourism to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 6.8% of total employment (13,500 jobs).

– Are key policies for tourism development in Brunei consistent with the policy direction and overall development of ASEAN tourism?

P.D.H.Y.: The key guiding principles of Brunei’s tourism development strategic direction concern fostering of tourism products and sectors that:
i) Create substantive socio-economic impact to the country;
ii) Are in-line with the overall national agenda on sustainable development;
iii) Fit with Bruneian culture and traditions;
iv) Differentiate tourism offerings and products while leveraging Brunei strengths, foremost nature and culture-based products;
v)Are attractive to domestic tourists as well.

This is very much in line with the guiding principles of ASEAN’s Tourism Strategic Plan 2011-2015, notably Integrated and structured tourism development; Sustainable and responsible development; Wide ranging stakeholder collaboration; Quality Tourism products; Service excellence; and Distinctive and interactive experiences.

– Within ASEAN Brunei is comparatively small country with relative low numbers of international tourist arrivals. In that respect, how do you regard the benefits and challenges presented by ASEAN tourism cooperation? What have been done by Brunei to capitalize on that cooperation?

P.D.H.Y.: Tourism development and enhancing international arrivals will always be challenging to small nations and economies; Brunei Darussalam is no exception. In this regard the country is actively pursuing the cooperation platform offered by ASEAN as well as other intergovernmental organizations and on a bilateral basis with neighbouring states and economies. There are two levels of cooperation; firstly, Gov-Gov collaboration on specific tourism aspects such as joint product development; enhancing the quality of services; border facilitation; joint events organisation; and joint marketing and promotion. The other level involves cooperation among private companies and tour operators. To date we are also implementing cooperation in specific areas such as Nature-related tourism products and packages and Islamic tourism packages.

– What are the most attractive tourism products Brunei offers to tourists? What are the possibilities to link them with ASEAN’s major tourism products?

P.D.H.Y.: Brunei Darussalam is renowned for her pristine green natural rainforest, clear sky, clean water and a safe and secure environment; in addition to a unique fusion of culture and heritage brought about by our rich maritime history through trade and commerce with the ancient Javanese civilization, Chinese traders, Muslim Arabs trade missionaries, as well as European merchant shipping companies. Rare treasures that can be found all in one place, to be shared with visitors. These differentiated offerings and Brunei’s uniqueness thereof, contribute to the richness and diversity of ASEAN’s major tourism products.

– What preparations are taken by the tourism sector in preparation of the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)?

P.D.H.Y.: Brunei’s tourism sector shows a CAGR of 3.1% (2007-2012) and a total contribution of 5.8% to the total GDP of which direct contribution comprises 1.8%; it supports 2.6% of total employment and generates about 3.3% of total exports in 2012.
Initiatives at various government agencies are on the way to develop infrastructure and facilities that would strengthen the country’s overall foundation for long term growth. In the areas specifically related to travel and tourism, Brunei Darussalam developed a series of Master Plans, including a Tourism Master Plan for the country and the capital’s Development Master Plan (2011), in which the projects set out are to provide the catalyst for enhanced private sector investments in tandem with the momentum created by government-led economic initiatives.

– ASEAN countries accepted and signed the Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) promoting the mobility of tourism professionals within the ASEAN region. How meaningful is this MRA to Brunei Darussalam?

P.D.H.Y.: Similar to the other ASEAN member economies, Brunei Darussalam needs to balance local employment issues with incoming foreign labour. However, looking at the broader and long-term aspects of travel and tourism needs, Brunei Darussalam is supportive of initiatives under the MRA’s umbrella. The MRA provides Brunei Darussalam with avenues for ease of contextualization of the ASEAN qualification standards for local use in professional and specific skills development – thus helping the locals with their career development. It also provides a platform for a more structured and standardized competency assurance program that ensure equivalent high service standards in tourism and hospitality sectors across ASEAN benefiting all member economies, including Brunei.

– A new ASEAN tourism development strategy for the next 5-10 years is being developed. From Brunei’s perspective, what critical issues should be given top priority therein?

P.D.H.Y.: There are several areas that Brunei Darussalam would like to be given priority in the next ASEAN tourism development strategy, namely those that resonates well with our very own long-term aspirations at the national level, i.e. sustainable and responsible development; marketing and promotion; quality products and services; promoting investment into tourism business and industry; as well as focus and structured collaboration with other working groups or parties within or outside of the ASEAN tourism frameworks in areas that are critically important to travel and tourism, such as travel and visitor facilitation; safety and security; infrastructure development; as well as other emerging issues such as impact of climate change on tourism community and its relation to a sustainable development agenda.