ISLAMIC 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?
It 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?
This 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?
This 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?
You 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?
David 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.
The Brunei Times
Sunday, August 24, 2008
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