Boycott won’t disrupt Brunei’s economy

CHIANG RAI, 10 April 2019 Guest Column*: While it is, of course, each government’s sovereign right to decree and revise its Penal Code as they see fit, it is equally the travel consumers’ right to avoid destinations with a rule of law that does not follow their perceptions of international human rights laws.

However, the economic impact of any boycott will be minimal since, according to the WTTC’s 2018 country report on Brunei, the country’s tourism direct contribution to GDP in 2017 was “just” 1.07% of total GDP and the forecast for 2028 still remains low at 2.3%.

Reduced revenue from the Dorchester Collection will not have any noteworthy impact on the economic results for Brunei, but the boycott could have a destructive impact on staff and dependents.

Bert van Walbeek

Although ASEAN’s principle of non-interference warrants recognition, those responsible for the planning and delivering of the ASEAN Tourism Forum should consider the pros and cons of organising the 2020 ATF as well as possibly the wisdom of continuing to schedule the region’s annual tourism event in Brunei.

Both buyers and sellers are used to personal freedom and with private preferences being acceptable since many years in the, largely liberal, tourism community, the safety of some stakeholders could be easily and unconsciously compromised, because of an impulsive moment of thoughtlessness.

Whereas a boycott would be a completely wrong approach, postponing the ATF planned in Brunei by moving the 2020 ATF to the next nation in the alphabetic queue, Cambodia, would be a prudent “duty of care” move.

As time goes by, it will become clear how the relevant laws will be implemented and, even more significant, how travel consumers, each in their own way, will react on what calls “contemplative respect for religion as well as reverence for its ancient sovereignty”.

But even under these present circumstances the rule that “every crisis has its opportunities” still applies.

Muslim travellers are one of the fastest developing market segments and its needs cannot be ignored by destination marketers and tourism operators. According to the State of the Global Islamic Economy report produced by Thomson Reuters, in collaboration with Dinar-Standard, the global Muslim travel market is expected to be worth USD238 billion in 2019 and consequently represents 13% of global expenditure.

With its oil reserves dwindling, the executives in charge of tourism in Brunei will need innovative tourism product development, realistic planning and crosshair targeted niche marketing, thus catering to those that respect, and accept, the kind of edicts and penalties establish under Syariah law.

Various types of Special Interest Tourism come to mind: Nature; Urban; Cuisine and Culture-Tourism are all offering great experiences, so do attractions like the Jerudong Park, the wildlife sanctuary Tasek Meribum and the Gadong Night Market.

The bottom line is simple: while respecting every tourism destination’s legal decisions, it will be the tourism consumer’s own judgement which decides their choice of travel experiences.

And who are we to decide what another person’s “abode of peace“ my be?

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of TTR Weekly.

TTR Weekly values reader input, comments and opinions. All reports allow readers to post comments.

Dr Bert van Walbeek is the founder and managing director of The Winning Edge, and a respected guest university lecturer and consultant on crisis management.


  1. I think Bert was partially correct but I am pleased to report that that the boycott did disrupt the Sultan’s thinking. I am sure Bert would be the first to say that human rights abuses are abhorrent. And whilst the Sultan’s coffers may not have diminished, the sovereign state’s reputation certainly has. Big time.

    The oil rich state has been prioritising tourism in recent years but the past few months has taken its toll on its credibility as a welcoming destination for tourists.

    “The reality is this is all about trying to abate the international pressure coming on Brunei,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, who said ‘the Brunei brand is taking a hard hit.’

    It is sad to learn that the death penalty is still on the books and can be invoked at any moment, along with whipping and imprisonment.

    Andrew J Wood

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