BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Royal Brunei Airline’s (RB) inaugural flight from Haikou, Hainan arrived early Friday morning carrying 148 Chinese tourists, as the national carrier expands its network of scheduled flights into China.

On Thursday, RB announced that it now flies twice weekly direct to Haikou, disclosing that It will also fly to Changsha in January 2019. The new routes are hoped to bring in more visitors. As it is, Chinese nationals already top arrivals into Brunei in the first quarter of 2018.

“In addition to Haikou, we have already launched Nanning and Hangzhou routes and soon Changsha which will operate effective 15 January 2019,” RB CEO Karam Chand said in a statement.

“Further establishing RB’s presence in China is very important for us as we are constantly exploring new opportunities to grow our footprint in one of the largest market in the world… We are confident our guests will benefit from the increased connections and enhanced travel experience from non-stop flights,” he added.

The inaugural flight carrying 148 Chinese tourists from Haikou, Hainan landed at the Brunei International Airport on Friday. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Friday’s flight was chartered by Freme Travel Services and used the A320neo aircraft. The 148 tourists will be staying in Brunei for four days and three nights.

Call for better tourism infrastructure

“Today is the first chartered flight from Haikou. On other flights (from other Chinese destinations), we have tourists coming in groups on average from 20 people to 100 people,” said Freme Travel Services’s Inbound & MICE Division Manager, Sugumaran Nair, in an interview with The Scoop on Friday.

However to meet the growing demand, the manager said Brunei needs to invest in its tourism infrastructure, in addition to providing more services for visitors.

“Tourism infrastructure is not much but we try to create more excursions, tours and programmes,” he said.

Sugumaran cited Brunei’s Pelompong Island, noting that although it is popular amongst those water sports enthusiasts, the island lacks proper infrastructure such as washrooms.

“Most of the visitors to Pelompong island are locals. We are the only ones bringing tourists there, but the problem is that this is an open island and no one wants to be the one responsible to construct permanent structures. There are also no caretakers on the island.”

He added: “Tourism Development Department does provide support, but I think we need more promotion. At the moment, the promotion side is lacking. Due to the budget, they can’t move so much, they try their best but we need more support,” he said.

Chinese tourists from Haikou, Hainan pose for a group photo at the Brunei International Airport. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Commenting on the need for better tourism infrastructure, acting director of Tourism Development Department, Salinah Salleh, said they regularly conduct meetings with travel agencies to discuss these issues.

As for the target of 278,000 tourist arrivals for 2018, Salinah said they are on track to achieving the target, without disclosing further details.

In this year’s Legislative Council meeting, the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism allocated $3 million out of its $54.1 million budget towards strengthening Brunei’s tourism industry.

For the first quarter of 2018, Brunei recorded a 4.1 percent increase in total tourist arrivals compared to the same time period last year, she added. With more flights coming in, she is optimistic that they would be able achieve the target of 14 percent increase in tourist arrivals by the end of this year.