It was March 2013, and Wajihah came across a tourist at Brunei International Airport, who was struggling to find out how to get to “Brunei national park” (which she found out was Ulu Temburong National Park).
She accompanied the tourist to Bandar Seri Begawan, in search of accommodation in the capital, and information about travelling to Temburong. It became clear, to the dismay of the ladies, that basic tourist-friendly information and services were still lacking in Brunei. View our video interview with Wajihah here.
Stirred by this story – not the first of its kind – in April, Wajihah and a group of friends decided to find out more about what a tourists typically face in Brunei, by donning “tourist outfits” for a day.
Goal: To travel from the Brunei International Airport to the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery, from the point of view of “tourists”.
Rules and Constraints:
- B$20-25 each for food, utilities and transport
- Use resources available to tourists, such as tourist maps, brochures, public transport
- Speak in English and pretend not to understand Malay (which was hard)
Here is the map of the route we eventually took:
(Edit in 2018: This map may show the incorrect route due to changes to parameters in Google Maps in the past 5 years. If we have time to fix this, we will do so!)
A list of our findings and a post-mortem can be found here: Tourists for a day: Positives and negatives
1 Brunei International Airport is a gateway for visitors to Brunei. They will spend their first 30 to 60 minutes in the country there, and one of the first things they will seek is information.
- There should be better signage all around, showing clearly (and correctly!) how to find something. What we couldn’t find: an information counter, and where to catch a public bus.
- Those who work at the airport should be aware of general airport facilities.
- A map of the airport should be provided, even throughout all the development phases of the airport. The map should clearly show locations of facilities and exits.
- There should be information about places outside the airport grounds, to guide visitors who are not using taxis or tourist buses. We saw no information indicating the nearby Airport Mall or shopping complexes, or facilities such as public bus stops, mosque, petrol station or hotels.
- All options for transport out of the airport should be provided in one place. This includes maps, prices, timetables or operating hours.
- Have an awareness of visitors’ increasing need to be connected. What can be provided: Free Wi-Fi hotspots throughout public areas of airport; prepaid mobile lines sold at shops.
2 It is often overlooked that the bus station at BSB is also a gateway for Brunei, for travellers from Sabah and Sarawak, as some will not even go through the Brunei International Airport.
- The bus station should be taken seriously as a gateway, and have improved information and services as well as a welcoming environment for new visitors.
- There should more signs indicating that visitors have arrived in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei Darussalam.
- There should be a map of BSB showing locations of attractions or useful places in the BSB area.
- There should also be information about other tourist destinations outside of the BSB area and how to travel to them, from BSB.
3 Brunei is still missing basic things such as maps for tourists and availability of information. Not all visitors to Brunei have things sorted out for them by a friend or travel agent, and, like most travellers, want a degree of independence in a foreign country.
- Maps should be shown or provided based on their purpose:
- Locations of tourist attractions and facilities, especially in targeted areas like BSB or Airport/Serusop (the biG magazine actually contains maps for Gadong and Kiulap);
- Maps to support travelling, such as locations of bus stops and routes, taxi stands, or even recommended walking routes;
- In a large area such as the airport, a map of facilities and services would be helpful.
- Maps should be provided strategically, for example:
- In brochures or magazines that can be found throughout the airport;
- On display at bus stops;
- On display at major shopping complexes.
- Provide easy access to useful information, such as:
- Well-staffed and well-stocked information counters;
- Brochures with up-to-date information (do any brochures mention that businesses now close at noon on Friday?)
- Alternatively to brochures, make travel websites that fulfill the same function.
- Consider different types of information:
- Travel information, e.g. bus schedules or operating hours, bus routes and destinations;
- Schedules or operating hours for tourist attractions.
- Information shouldn’t only be available at the destination itself. We had to travel across the river from the Waterfront, to find out that the Kampong Ayer Gallery was closed early on Friday morning.
Our experience as tourists happened on a Friday morning in April 2013. It is now October, and things have not remained unchanged. Recent developments on public transport include: the new colour codes for public buses; a video by a tourist criticising Brunei, mostly Bandar Seri Begawan, which received tons of hate mail from Bruneians.
On a smaller scale, signs in the new departure and arrival hall are larger, and the information counter in the Departure Lobby is now clearly marked. It is noted that there are still no signs clearly marking bus stops. A map is now provided by the Survey Department, Ministry of Development at the arrival information counter but Brunei International Airport is not clearly indicated (pic) and there is no explanation of how to use public transportation. (See below for the most recent pictures of Brunei International Airport)
Despite this, we believe our experiences and findings are still relevant. We are interested in addressing the overall tourist experience in Brunei, which will not improve by only providing brightly-coloured buses. Those providing services to tourists must adopt an attitude of providing information that is actually useful to visitors.
In the future, issues regarding tourism and public transport may be addressed by the Brunei Tourism Board, in the expansion of the Brunei International Airport, in Land Transport Department’s Land Transport Master Plan, or in the BSB Masterplan.
We do not deny the progress made by these different agencies to improve their services. We only hope that, in their separate programmes and efforts, they will recognise tourism as one of their common goals, and are able to work together towards improving the tourist experience in Brunei.
- [Video] Wajihah’s story of a tourist she helped out
- Tourists for a day: Positives and negatives for the list of our findings and a post-mortem
What are your thoughts?
- Have you ever helped out a tourist? If yes, what was your experience?
- What public information or facilities do you expect when you are travelling abroad?
- What do you think are the difficulties experienced by authorities or companies, for transport and tourism?
Share your experiences below!