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Sumbiling Stories

Natural Seductions

Bestowed with pristine rainforests and generous rivers, Brunei’s MICE specialists are tapping these natural resources to lure corporate groups. _____________________________________________________________________________

Unlike its Asian neighbours who have developed quality infrastructure that supports business events of various scales, from Hong Kong’s world-class convention and exhibition centres and Singapore’s stunning integrated resorts to Bangkok’s dizzying array of affordable shopping and entertainment options, Brunei seems to pale in comparison.

However, event planners who look beneath the surface of the young MICE destination will discover that Brunei is rich with natural attractions.

Freme Travel Services’ Rainforest Lodge, which sits on the fringe of the Ulu Temburong National Park and along the Temburong River, has been drawing corporate groups that are keen on nature-based teambuilding activities. Thanks to its riverside location, water-based activities can also be arranged.

Freme Travel Services manager, inbound and MICE division, Sugumaran Nair, said: “We usually get groups of up to 30 for our teambuilding programmes. We have in-house trainers to manage the low rope courses and water-based activities. Most clients are from local companies whose main objectives are to improve communications, bond teams and realign individuals to corporate goals. Leadership programmes have also been held here, as some clients prefer to (meet) outdoors.”

Through its partnership with overseas travel firms, Freme Travel also gets international incentive groups – most of them from destinations served by Royal Brunei Airlines, with top source markets being Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Freme Travel also offers river cruises to the Ulu Temburong National Park, as well as visits to the park and a nearby longhouse village at Kampung Batang Duri. Nair said: “Overseas groups usually like to interact with the locals and learn about their culture, thus we can arrange activities at the village such as local cooking classes and football games with the children.”

Although participants are out in the national park, they are not denied of dining pleasures. A local buffet is served for lunch, while dinner is a satisfying barbeque. The Rainforest Lodge’s new dining venue, a terrace that overlooks the Temburong River, is now a hot favourite among guests.

Freme Travel has seen a small increase of five to eight per cent in local and international incentive and teambuilding groups. Nair said: “There is a market for outdoor teambuilding activities in Brunei as Asians become more aware of the environment and (desire) time with nature to de-stress and rejuvenate.”

Another nature-based attraction within the national park is the Ulu Ulu National Park Resort, which lies on the banks of the Temburong and Belalong rivers. Accommodation facilities have been upgraded progressively since the resort’s privatisation in 2008, allowing 54 people to be housed in 17 air-conditioned guestrooms across eight villas.

Corporate groups can utilise a cinema/auditorium for 60 people and a 25-seat boardroom, among other facilities. Meals are freshly prepared by the resort’s chef and served in three different dining establishments. Breakfast and dinner are served at Valley Café, lunch at the breezy Two River Terrace Café, and afternoon tea at the Club Lounge.

Ulu Ulu National Park Resort also puts corporate groups in touch with nature. Participants can trek to Sugai Apan Waterfall, do a canopy walk, raft, go river tubing and embark on jungle walks in the night. For a more leisurely experience, participants can kayak or swim in the river or just relax in serene surroundings.

Peter Chieng, managing director of Majestic Tours which specialises in the Chinese leisure and MICE market, said the resort would appeal to the Chinese due to its location and easy access to water activities.

Chieng said: “The nature element (of the resort) complements city tours and (the national park) is good for day trips. Overnight stays are limited to small groups though, as there are (not many guest- rooms).”

Chieng added that the resort would also appeal to clients who are environmentally conscious, as it has eco-friendly elements in place. For instance, smoking is prohibited within the resort, and no plastic bottles are used.

A third nature-based option exists in the form of the Sumbiling Eco Village at Temburong district. In operation since late-2007, Sumbiling Eco Village is a joint venture between Hasa Incentives and the Iban villagers living in Sumbiling Lama.

The village is easily accessible by a 45-minute speedboat ride from Bandar Seri Begawan, followed by a short drive from Bangar town. Populated by some 10 families, the village is located in a secondary forest, close to the Temburong River.

The natural landscape is leveraged for teambuilding activities such as camping, jungle trekking and introductions to the medicinal plants in the forest.

Hasa Incentives managing director, Leslie Chiang, said: “We provide the concept, funding, planning and management of the project, while the villagers supply the manpower and expertise as nature guides, boatmen, drivers, cooks and talents for cultural performances as well as ideas for further improvements of the business.”

Most of Sumbiling Eco Village’s corporate clientele are from Brunei, with most favouring single-day programmes that incorporate outdoor teambuilding activities such as building a raft and floating it downstream, cooking in the rainforest and organising a rainforest treasure hunt.

With improved air accessibility between Kuala Lumpur and Bandar Seri Begawan now – Royal Brunei Airlines increased flight frequency on that route from 11 a week to 14 on May 22 – Hasa Incentives is encouraged to promote a new package created just for the Malaysian corporate market at the upcoming MATTA Fair in September in Kuala Lumpur.

The two-day/one-night package includes customised programmes and a choice of spending the night under the stars in tents or longhouse-style wooden rooms that come furnished with beds. These accommodation facilities can take up to 60 guests.

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