BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Tourist arrivals into Brunei International Airport increased by 7.4 percent last year, surpassing the government’s target of 278,000 visitor arrivals by air, the minister of Primary Resources and Tourism disclosed on Wednesday.

A total of 278,136 air arrivals were recorded in 2018, compared to 258,955 in 2017, and 218,809 in 2016.

“We believe that [the number of tourist arrivals] will steadily increase over time,” MPRT minister YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Ali Apong said in a speech during the launch of the Brunei River Heritage Trail.

According to MPRT Deputy Permanent Secretary Wardi Hj Mohammad Ali, the ministry is targeting 300,000 tourist arrivals by air in 2019 — a 7.8 percent increase from 2018 — fueled by key markets in the Far East, such as China and Korea.

Air arrivals into Brunei from 2014 to 2018. Source: Tourism Development Department; National Immigration and Registration Department

For the first quarter of 2018, tourist arrivals from the Far East region showed significant growth of 40.5 percent from Q1 2017.

South Korea has also proven to be one of Brunei’s fastest growing tourism markets, with growth leaping 145 percent between 2016 and 2017.

“The tourism industry is performing very well, especially with our key markets in the Far East,” Wardi said. “The ministry is continuously working on developing skills of personnel in the hospitality sector to better cater these markets, like teaching them mandarin.”

Brunei’s tourist growth in key markets, according to statistics provided by the Tourism Development Department; and National Immigration and Registration Department. Graphic: Liyana Hanif/The Scoop

The tourism official added that MPRT will be opening up a number of request for proposals for the private sector to manage, operate and develop different kinds of tourism activities in Temburong, Mergagang, Tutong and Labi.

Ultimately, he said that the proposals are aimed at attracting both local and international investors to develop these sites.

The launch of the Brunei River Heritage Trail is the latest project spearheaded by the Tourism Development Department, which highlights the historical sites and landmarks that dot the river from the Kampong Ayer to the Brunei Bay.

The trail allows visitors to experience the rich history and folklore surrounding the river, from the early settlements of the water village to the Kota Batu Archaeological Park, and other sites such as Jong Batu and Pulau Cermin which are steeped in hundreds of years of Brunei’s history.