Brunei ideal for halal tourism

Niche expert: Hajj Abdulhamid Evans. Picture: BT/Debbie Too

Sunday, August 24, 2008

tourism or halal tourism was a concept that was discussed during the
recently concluded International Halal Conference held here. How
feasible is the concept for Brunei? Hajj Abdulhamid Evans, managing
director and senior analyst at Imarat Consultants, a consulting firm
specialising in the halal market, told The Brunei Times that there is
no reason why Brunei cannot apply it to boost tourism since it already
has the values and ingredients in place.

What is Islamic tourism and how is it different from just attracting tourists from other countries?

has to do with keeping people within the same frame of Islamic values
by staying within a cultural context which is recognisably Muslim and
has interesting differences which offer activities that just eliminate
gambling, drinking and all the party stuff. Islamic tourism offers much
more wholesome, nice and safe family activities.

This sounds very new. How did the trend come about that tourism developers decided it was a marketable product?

is one of the areas that no one really saw for a while, and was driven,
in a way, by all the “petrol dollars”, the money in the Middle East.
Since Sept 11, they’ve been less inclined to go and invest their money
and go on holiday in the US and Europe. There’s a shift in how they
spend their money and activities and even their holidays, and because a
lot of people are now getting screened and they go under scrutiny when
they go and can’t get their visas, there has been a lot of inter-Arab
travel where they stay within the Muslim world. So there have been huge
developments in resorts and hotels.

Has this trend come to Southeast Asia?

trend is spilling out to Southeast Asia, and Malaysia has targeted this
where they have what they call “Arab Season”. In August, it’s really
hot in the Gulf states, the Arabs like to come on holiday for three
weeks or one month so the work closes down, and they’ve got a bit of
money and they bring the whole family on holiday where they rent an
apartment or take several rooms in the hotel, and what happens is the
women go shopping and the men decide they should do a little bit of
business where they buy property and start putting up business projects
that they can do. So clearly, that’s what’s being called Islamic or
halal tourism, which is now a phenomenon that’s being talked about even
by the airlines.

Our neighbouring countries are more developed
in terms of shopping malls and restaurants to accommodate not only a
large population, but also a large number of tourists. How can Brunei
compete? What kind of activities could Brunei have that would make
tourists decide to pick Brunei over Singapore or Malaysia?

could look at what kind of niche Brunei wanted to develop targeting
tourism. For example, people get bored sitting on a beach, people also
get bored shopping, so a more activity-based holiday where it could
target Muslims and say that Brunei is a Muslim country, with halal
food, no alcohol and has a safe family environment could work. Brunei
could offer the ecotourism things like jungle trekking and the beaches,
but it could also add some of the traditional handicrafting activities.

Having seen Brunei for the past week or so, and going on tours, what potential do you see?

Smith, one of the world’s top guys on Islamic tourism who did a report
on the developments in the Middle East on Islamic-based tourism, was in
Brunei to talk during the conference and we did a tour of Brunei, the
water village and so on, and he said that the waterfront could be
developed very tastefully and made into a fantastic tourist attraction.
If a new hotel was made on the waterfront, it would bring back some of
the action that has moved to Gadong. We stopped in someone’s house to
have drinks and snacks, but it could have had other things going on
like cultural dances and things that are part of the Malay world.
Brunei could showcase other parts of the Malay world that you don’t get
to see unless you visit some remote island in Indonesia. You could have
certain dances and music things like that from here, typically
Southeast Asian Malay culture. With a bit of imagination and a few
ideas, you could develop something really good. Again, go niche. Brunei
has to think in niches and shouldn’t compete in shopping centres
because people who want to go on holiday and shop aren’t going to come
here. So you’ve got to use what you’ve got that other places haven’t
got and here you’ve got culture, tradition and the Muslim world.