Sinar Tours draws 10,000 Koreans to Brunei in first 12 months

Without direct flights and only 2,871 Korean tourists to Brunei in 2015, Sinar Tours decided to market chartered flights from Incheon

Local travel agency Sinar Tours has brought in 10,000 Koreans to Brunei within its first 12 months – the highest Brunei has officially recorded from South Korea – through chartered flights twice a week from Incheon, according to its directors.

Sinar Tours, which is jointly owned by Hjh Normah Suria Hayati PJDSMDSU (Dr) Haji Awang Jamil Al-Sufri and Korean James Park, began the business by strategically targeting South Korean tourists – only 2,871 of which were recorded in Brunei in 2015.

Sinar introduced chartered flights with Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) in December 2016, which ran for 12 consecutive months until the national carrier decided to introduce Incheon as part of their scheduled flights at the end of 2017.

According to statistics from the Tourism Development Department, there were 3,551 tourists from South Korea to Brunei in 2016, which swelled to 8,705 last year – with Sinar Tour’s packages arguably the driving force behind the increase.

The travel agency is now targeting to facilitate 12,000 to 15,000 tourists from Korea in 2018, potentially more if a third weekly flight is added.

“At first, it was admittedly a risk for us to take on the chartered flights,” said Hjh Normah, a retired senior civil servant. “But it was a necessary step (since there were no scheduled flights at the time). However, with James’ connections and our research, we believed that there was a market in Korea that Brunei could tap into.”

Park, a businessman with 30 years experience in tourism, said he decided to become a partner for Sinar because Brunei was a destination that had yet to be seriously marketed in South Korea, and saw potential in the Sultanate’s resort facilities and golf courses.

Park (L) and Hjh Normah (R) set up the business in December 2016 after meeting through a mutual friend.

“More than 20 million South Koreans travel outside their country each year, about three to four million who are looking to play golf,” said James, who has also invested in tour agencies in US and Canada. “More than 90 per cent (of the 10,000 Koreans coming to Brunei) have stayed at the Empire Hotel & Country Club, whose Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course is one of the best in the region.”

Sinar has marketed Brunei through several Korean travel agents and marketing companies, who visited Brunei and later developed advertisement campaigns including television commercials.

Sinar’s three main packages to Korean tourists were scheduled around their chartered flights on Thursday and Sunday; offering three nights, four nights and a week-long stay, primarily at the Empire Hotel & Country Club but with options at the Parkview Hotel, Rizqun International Hotel and the Centrepoint Hotel.

Visitors had the option for tours to all four districts; in the capital, tourists visited mosques, Kg Ayer, the Brunei Arts and Handicraft Training Centre, the Royal Regalia Museum and local restaurants, while their day trip Temburong involved rafting and the canopy walk at the Ulu Temburong National Park. Visitors were also given the option of visiting the Eco Ponies Garden in Tutong and oil monuments in Belait.

“I have only been here 16 months so I’m still learning more about Brunei and its attractions,” said James. “We (Sinar) are still discovering new places and developing new tours to showcase Brunei to Korea.”

A Korean tourist snapping a photo while on the canopy walk in Temburong. Sinar also offers all-inclusive packages for Bruneians to visit Korea, but James and Hjh Normah said they’ve sold much less than 1,000 packages, which makes up only a fraction of their business.

Hjh Normah added that the increase in visitors will boost spending within the country, with Sinar looking to partner with more local businesses for retail opportunities and inbound tour services.

“Right now we’re running two retail outlets (at Empire’s arcade), one a souvenirs shop with AEWON and another with exclusively local products,” said Hjh Normah. “We’re looking at different tours as well in Brunei offering new experiences that can be used to draw more tourists.”

For the latest updates follow @sinartourbru on Instagram. Sinar Tour is located at Unit 7 & 8, Empire Arcade, Level 5, Empire Hotel & Country Club. To get in touch directly contact +6732610673.