BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — The number of tourist arrivals tumbled 81.3 percent last year as COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closures severely hit Brunei’s tourism sector.

Only 62,000 tourist arrivals were recorded in 2020, far below 333,240 in the preceding year, according to government figures.

Buoyed by a surge in tourists from China, Brunei was experiencing an upward trend in the number of tourist arrivals for three years before the pandemic struck.

Brunei’s borders have remained shut since March 24 but essential travellers can still seek permission from the Prime Minister’s Office to enter or leave the country.

During the 17th Legislative Council (LegCo) session on Monday, Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Ali Hj Apong said his ministry has shifted its focus to domestic tourism to make up for revenue losses.

Among the domestic tourism initiatives were the annual Brunei December Festival and ‘Selera Bruneiku’ (A Taste of Brunei), which saw over 50 activities organised to stimulate tourism growth.

“The ministry is also auditing and inspecting tourism facilities in the country to ensure they meet standards,” the minister said in response to LegCo member YB Pg Hj Ali Pg Maon’s questions on MPRT’s plans to reboot the tourism sector after the pandemic.

A total of $1.5 million has also been earmarked for tourism projects under the 11th National Development Plan.

Bruneians made up 70 percent of the 3,152 people working in the tourism sector, the minister said.

Different rice varieties for sale at a market. Photo: Faiq Airudin/The Scoop

Brunei misses rice self-sufficiency target

Brunei has missed its rice self-sufficiency target of 11 percent by 2020, with the current rate at 8.23 percent.

The ministry previously aimed to boost rice yield to 7,700 metric tonnes by 2020.

However, YB Dato Hj Ali said rice production increased 67.4 percent to 2,511.31 metric tonnes in 2020.

Brunei previously set a 15 percent rice self-sufficiency target by 2025.

Rice imports have also declined six percent to 34,082.40 metric tonnes. The country imports most of its rice from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to meet its domestic consumption.

In the livestock sector, the country is close to reaching 100 percent self-sufficiency in broiler output, and 100 percent self-sufficiency in egg production.

The minister said broiler production rose 7.2 percent, achieving record levels of output to 26,364.82 metric tonnes in 2020.

In the same year, egg production climbed 7.7 percent to 171.93 million eggs, while fish and shrimp production also expanded 10 percent to reach 81 percent self-sufficiency in the fisheries sector.

Brunei also reported a 46.77 percent rise in cattle and meat production last year to achieve 62 percent self-sufficiency.

In the crop sector, the country has reached 67 percent self-sufficiency in vegetables and 46 percent self-sufficiency in tropical fruits.

The agriculture and agri-food sector currently employs 8,184 people, of which 42 percent are locals.

Cattle production increased 46.7% in 2020. Photo: Ain Bandial/ The Scoop

MPRT gets 11% budget hike

MPRT has tabled a $68.6 million budget for the 2021/2022 fiscal year, an 11 percent increase from the previous financial year.

Another $49.9 million will be used to fund development projects, the minister said.

Giving a breakdown of the budget allocation for recurring expenses, he said $15.7 million will be spent on the paddy buy-back scheme and purchase of hybrid paddy seeds for farmers.

Some $3.9 million has been allocated for asset management under the Department Agriculture, while $1 million will be used for drainage and flood mitigation works at several agricultural sites.

Another $4.6 million has been set aside to fund accreditation programmes for veterinary laboratories.

To reduce the government’s financial burden, YB Dato Hj Ali said the ministry has embarked on public-private partnerships.

MPRT appointed Brunei-China joint venture Muara Port Company (MPC) to design, develop, manage and maintain the Fish Landing Complex in Serasa last year. 

The $28 million project is fully funded by the private sector, the minister added.