BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — The fourth installment of the Brunei December Festival is expected be a low-key affair when it launches on December 3 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual festival, which aims to get Bruneians to stay and spend their money in the country during the year-end holidays, will kick off at Times Square Shopping Centre.

The pandemic meant that the format of this year’s festival had to be changed to comply with physical distancing measures.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah will not launch the festival as seen in the past editions, while the venue has been changed from Taman Hj Sir Muda Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien.

The month-long festival will feature 88 events from 60 organisers.

The events are divided into five categories: food festival, Islamic festival, sports and adventure, culture and creative arts, as well as recreation and shopping.

Some organisers will be extending the duration of their events as COVID-19 social distancing measures meant that fewer people can gather at a time.

The health ministry restricted the number of people at public gatherings to not more than 350 people at each event.

The inaugural festival attracted 98,000 domestic and foreign visitors in 2017 and increased to 173,561 the following year.

Brunei’s tourism sector has been hit hard by the pandemic, prompting officials to shift the focus to domestic tourism to stimulate economic growth.

Data from the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies showed that Brunei’s air transport and hotels sub-sectors contracted by more than 90 percent and 50 percent in Q2 2020, respectively.

The restaurants sub-sector also declined by 20 percent in the second quarter this year.